Thousands of Thai soldiers and police out in force to deter protest

Hundreds continue to defy junta by taking to the streets of Bangkok to condemn coup

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 June, 2014, 1:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 11:48am

Thailand's junta deployed thousands of security forces on the streets of Bangkok yesterday to thwart another round of small-scale protests denouncing last month's military coup. Hundreds of demonstrators came out and several were detained, but there was no violence.

Fears of possible unrest, however, prompted a major downtown shopping mall to close, and authorities temporarily shut down several subway and elevated train stations near where protests could have materialised.

Thailand has been calm since the army overthrew the nation's elected government on May 22, saying it had to restore order after seven months of demonstrations that had triggered sporadic violence and left the country's political rivals in a stalemate.

But the junta that took power has launched a major campaign to suppress dissent.

Since the coup, small groups of pro-democracy protesters have come out nearly every day, marching through Bangkok and sometimes scuffling with soldiers.

The junta has issued stern warnings, calling on the demonstrators to stop because it sees their actions as destabilising, but it has not employed force to stop them.

Yesterday, authorities said about 5,700 soldiers and police were deployed at key intersections in Bangkok to stop demonstrators from massing.

"I am here because I don't want a coup. I want elections and democracy," said a 66-year-old woman who asked to be identified only as Ratchana because she feared being detained.

"This is the 21st century. There shouldn't be any coups, but they still keep happening because Thais are afraid to speak out."

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Ratchana was one of several hundred protesters who gathered on an elevated walkway beside the Terminal 21 shopping mall, chanting "Freedom!" and "Democracy!"

Scores of police and helmeted soldiers with riot shields came to the scene, and the mall's owners shut the nine-storey complex and asked customers to leave for their own safety.

Two army trucks, including a Humvee mounted with a machine gun, parked on a street outside, but moved away after crowds booed them.

The protest fizzled after a couple of hours, and about 60 of the demonstrators regrouped down the road near the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Soldiers showed up there, too, marching in formation towards the protesters until the demonstration broke up.