Thousands of police deployed as 'Red Shirts' launch protest
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Thailand’s ruling junta deployed thousands of security forces on the streets of Bangkok on Sunday to thwart a round of small-scale protests planned by the country’s “Red Shirts” denouncing the May 22 military coup.
Authorities said about 5,700 soldiers and police were deployed Sunday at key intersections in Bangkok to stop demonstrators from amassing. Hundreds of demonstrators came out anyway to face off against scores of police and soldiers with riot shields.
The junta has issued stern warnings against demonstrations but it had not previously employed force to stop them.
The protest fizzled after a couple of hours, but about 60 of the demonstrators regrouped down the road near the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Soldiers marched in formation toward the protesters until the demonstration broke up.
Sunday’s demonstrations were organised by veteran social activist Sombat Boonngam-anong, a member of the “Red Shirts” movement that backs ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra as well as her brother, deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Sombat, who has refused to reply to a summons ordering him to report to an army base, has taunted the military by posting a call to protest on his Facebook page. He asked people to come in disguise for a “mask party” to protest against the coup – protesters have started wearing masks with the faces of political personalities, including the country’s new ruler, army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.
In Red Shirt strongholds in northern Thailand, troops have been conducting raids, taking local leaders away and searching for weapons. Many have fled to neighbouring countries.
Thailand's military seized power on May 22, suspending the constitution, curtailing civil liberties under martial law and imposing a nightly curfew, saying it had to restore order after seven months of demonstrations against Yingluck's regime that triggered sporadic violence.
It is the 19th coup or attempted coup in Thailand's modern history. A bloodless military takeover overthrew Yingluck's brother Thaksin in 2006.
Thailand has been relatively calm since the army took power, but the junta that took power has launched a major campaign to suppress dissent, rounding up scores of political figures – including prime minister Yingluck – as well as academics and activists. Yingluck was later released.
The army has effectively neutralised the movement’s top leaders, detaining them and forcing them to sign agreements promising they will no longer take part in activities that could destabilise the nation.
Since the coup, small groups of pro-democracy protesters have come out nearly every day, marching through Bangkok and sometimes scuffling with soldiers. No injuries have been reported so far.
The protesters say they should have the right to express themselves freely.
“I am here because I don’t want a coup. I want elections and democracy,” said a 66-year-old female protester who asked to be identified only as Ratchana because of concerns over being detained.
“This is the 21st century,” she said. “There shouldn’t be any coups, but they still keep happening ... because Thais are afraid” to speak out.
Ratchana was one of several hundred protesters who gathered on an elevated walkway beside the Terminal 21 shopping mall, chanting “Freedom!” and “Democracy!”
Despite the latest political upheaval, life has continued largely as normal in most of Bangkok and the rest of the country, with tourists still relaxing at beach resorts and strolling through Buddhist temples in the capital and elsewhere.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)