Anti-coup protestors defy march ban in Thailand
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Thailand’s military junta struggled to control hundreds of protesters in central Bangkok Sunday in the largest demonstration since Thursday’s military coup. It also ordered dozens of activists to surrender to military authorities.
Small protests have persisted since the army seized power on Thursday after months of conflict between the elected government and a fierce opposition protest movement. The military has been pleading for patience amidst growing international condemnation.
Troops fanned out Sunday across one of Bangkok’s busiest shopping districts and blocked access to the city’s Skytrain, an elevated walkways linking upscale shopping centres and the road to the US Embassy, in an attempt to prevent a third day of anti-coup protests. They were soon met by a crowd that swelled to about 1,000 people shouting, “Get out, get out, get out!”
The junta’s leader, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, had warned people earlier Sunday not to join anti-coup street protests, stating that normal democratic principles cannot be applied.
The military junta has also defended the detentions of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, most of the deposed government’s Cabinet along with dozens of politicians and activists. Moreover, the military has ordered dozens of outspoken activists, academics and journalists, including a prominent Thai reporter, to surrender themselves to military authorities.
Growing international criticism
In response, the United States has cut off foreign aid and cancelled military exercises with Thailand since the coup.
The US State Department on Saturday urged “the immediate restoration of civilian rule and release of detained political leaders, a return to democracy through early elections, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Asked about the US relationship, a junta spokesman expressed hope that Washington might consider what they termed special circumstances, referring to several years of disruptive demonstrations by two bitterly divided factions that have several times paralysed the country and led to violent clashes.
“For Thailand, its circumstances are different from others,” army spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree said. “There is the use of weapons of war. Signs of violence against residents are everywhere. This is out of the ordinary.”
“... Democracy in Thailand has resulted in losses, which is definitely different from other countries,” he said.
The junta leader has justified the coup by saying the army had to act to avert violence and end half a year of political turmoil triggered by anti-government protests that killed 28 people and injured more than 800.
The protests were part of a cycle of duelling demonstrations between supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Yingluck’s brother, who himself was ousted in a 2006 military coup and staunch opponents with the support of Thailand’s traditional establishment.
The intractable divide plaguing the country today is part of an increasingly precarious power struggle.
One side is made up of an elite, conservative minority backed by powerful businessmen and staunch royalists. This powerful group, based in Bangkok and the south, no longer has the numbers to win elections.
The electoral power lies in the hands of Thaksin Shinawatra, a former police officer, and his supporters in the rural north.
“Thaksin was the first to make use of modern polling and marketing techniques and was one of the earliest to recognise that the key to electoral success would be in capturing the vote in the country’s populous north and northeast,” wrote scholar Duncan McCargo in Foreign Affairs.
Parties allied with Thaksin have won every election in Thailand since 2001. The government deposed Thursday rose to power in a landslide election in 2011 that was ruled fair.
Yet Thailand’s democracy remained fragile.
The government had insisted for months that it was under attack from protesters, the courts and, finally, the army, which together had rendered it powerless.
Prime Minister Yingluck was forced from office earlier this month by a controversial court verdict for abuse of power, which she denies.
Since November, anti-government protesters had been calling for the army to intervene and support their bid to overthrow the government, which they accused of corruption.
The army launched the coup after ordering two days of brief peace talks last week in which the country’s political rivals failed to end their deadlock.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)