Selfies with soldiers as Thai martial law creeps into force

Selfies with soldiers as Thai martial law creeps into force

BANGKOK - Some snatched selfies with armed soldiers but most passers-by barely blinked as troops and jeeps mounted with machine-guns took to Bangkok's streets early Tuesday, a peculiarly pragmatic Thai response to political upheaval.

Traffic-halting marches, sandbagged bunkers and sporadic violence have become commonplace in a struggle lasting almost seven months to overthrow the government, leaving the majority of Bangkok residents broadly inured to the turmoil.

Three soldiers wearing flak jackets and carrying machine guns stood by a military jeep at one downtown intersection early Tuesday, politely posing for photographs with commuters as news spread of the military's declaration of martial law.

A smattering of bemused tourists peered at the troops at the Ratchaprasong junction, a major shopping district which includes high-end hotels.

It is also a highly symbolic site after a military crackdown on a "Red Shirt" protest in 2010 left scores dead there. Monday was the fourth anniversary of the crackdown.

A man on a motorcycle sped by shouting "Su, Su!" (Fight,Fight!) a Thai phrase of encouragement, in a sign that some welcome the military intervention.

The army has staged 18 coups or attempted coups since 1932 and is seen by some as a stabilising force within the kingdom's febrile politics.

Small groups of armed soldiers were stationed along main roads throughout the capital. But for most of the city it was business as usual.

While the presence of armed soldiers on the streets raises the stakes for a caretaker government whose authority appears fatally undermined, it did not appear to ruffle many Thais.

Teenager Pongtawat Lanlerdphonboon told AFP martial law was an "issue for adults".

"My parents told me to go about my life as normal," the 17-year-old added as he travelled to school.

Several others who spoke to AFP were unaware of the decree by Tuesday afternoon even though it gives authorities sweeping powers -- including the right to disperse protest groups, search and detain people, censor the media and enforce a curfew.

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