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THAILAND COUP: Anti-coup protesters scuffle with police

Publication Date : 25-05-2014


With the military now in control of Thailand, political gatherings of five people or more are barred, and a curfew is imposed from 10pm to 5am. TV channels have been warned against broadcasting anti-coup news, while academics are treading carefully to avoid arrest.

Still, it has not stopped people from protesting against the coup d'etat staged by army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday, sparking testy exchanges and scuffles with soldiers, as well as some arrests.

At midday yesterday, about 200 anti-coup protesters at a cineplex in northern Bangkok faced off with policemen and soldiers in riot gear, determined to block a planned march to a nearby army quarter.

Soldiers stationed themselves at nearby overhead bridges, watching for any signs of movement.

Undeterred, the protesters stood on the steps of the mall, belting out pro-democracy songs in between the chants of "election!", "freedom" and "Prayuth get out".

One placard read: "Soldier steal my freedom". Another declared: "Coup for the rich", reflecting the belief that Gen Prayuth had staged the coup to further the interests of the royalist elite and urban middle class, which have long opposed the dominance of the Puea Thai party.

Puea Thai is closely linked to Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's premier till he was ousted by a military coup in 2006. His sister Yingluck Shinawatra helmed the country from 2011 after Puea Thai's landslide electoral victory but was expelled by the Constitutional Court on May 7. The party's supporters feel that the "ammart", or powers that be, are conspiring to deny the masses their electoral power.

About three hours into the demonstration, the protesters marched towards Victory Monument, a major intersection in central Bangkok. The crowd swelled as bystanders emerged to cheer them. This group eventually merged with others already at the monument. They heckled troops stationed there and scuffles broke out as soldiers tried to detain some of them. More violence was only narrowly headed off.

"We are the people" the protesters chanted as they occupied the sidewalk around the monument. One of them was meteorologist Aroonrat Insatorn, 42. "We don't love Thaksin, but we want democracy," she told The Sunday Times. "We want an election."

As the agitated protesters eddied around her, yelling at soldiers, she said: "Sometimes I don't understand my own country."

Protests have also taken place elsewhere, such as in Chiang Mai up north, but no violence was reported. The junta, however, has been cracking down on "red shirt" activists who form Puea Thai's key supporters and are expected to counter the coup. On Friday, more than 20 were reportedly arrested in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen with grenades and bullets.

Colonel Werachon Sukondhapatipak, a junta spokesman, told reporters yesterday: "The army has been monitoring the situation for the past 10 years… Our intelligence officers have been doing their job."

At least another 11 red shirt leaders in Chiang Mai have been detained and are incommunicado.

Human Rights Watch yesterday condemned the mass detentions. It said in a statement:  "The risk of torture and ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in unofficial locations and under the control of the military, which lacks training and experience in law enforcement."

The United States also said it was reviewing military aid and other dealings with Thailand. Under US law, with limited exceptions, no US foreign aid may flow to "any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d'etat or decree."

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