Thailand: thousands of police block Bangkok march by 200 protesters on fourth anniversary of coup
Government House and surrounding streets have been declared a no-go zone by police for the opposition march marking four years since a May 22, 2014, coup
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha reiterated on Tuesday that a general election will take place in “early 2019 and no sooner” as hundreds of protesters marched in Bangkok to demand that a vote be held in November.
The demonstrators, some waving Thai flags and others holding signs with cartoons of Prayuth as Pinocchio, set off from Thammasat University but were blocked by rows of police in black uniforms from reaching the prime minister’s offices at Government House.
A handful of protesters pushed up against police trying to break through while a separate group of around 80 people made their way towards the UN regional headquarters en route to the prime minister’s offices.
Government House and surrounding streets were declared a no-go zone by police for the march marking four years since a May 22, 2014, coup and have warned protesters not to defy a ban on public gatherings.
Prayuth, who as army chief led the 2014 coup ending months of street protests and political gridlock, reiterated on Tuesday that there would be no election until 2019.
“I’ve said already that it will be according to my steps and that is early 2019 and no sooner,” Prayuth told reporters. “These people have shown their point of view many times and we have taken on-board what they’ve said within our capacity.”
The military has promised a return to democratic rule but repeatedly delayed general elections.
Protest leaders said they have no plans to call off their march.
“Government House is still our target and we will do everything to get there,” Rangsiman Rome, 26, one of the protest leaders, told reporters. “Many people came from the countryside so I don’t think they will go home.”
Police told the 500 or so protesters to go home.
“We have put forces all around Government House … if they come in to these areas there will be a prison sentence of up to six months,” deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul told reporters. “Police have no weapons. They are carrying only batons.”
One protester was arrested near the UN building. Police said he had broken the law but declined to give details.
The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said in a statement it had filed charges against five protest leaders for holding an illegal gathering.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters at Government House the protesters were welcome to send a representative.
“The prime minister works hard … the NCPO these four years has worked every day,” Prawit said.
Suchada Saebae, 55, a market vendor, disagreed.
“I came since 6am this morning because I think the NCPO has done a rubbish job these past four years,” Suchada said.
Protests against military rule have taken place intermittently in Bangkok since the start of the year.
Some of them have been led by young activists. Others have been attended by supporters of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in 2006 and fled abroad.
His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was overthrown in the 2014 coup and also fled abroad. Both have been convicted of corruption.
Thailand has been rocked by pro- and anti-government street protests for more than a decade, some of them deadly.
The military says it carried out the 2014 coup to end the cycle of violence.