Thai soldiers and police out in force to deter protest

Thai soldiers and police out in force to deter protest
Thai soldiers direct traffic on a main road near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok June 1, 2014

BANGKOK - Around 6,000 police and soldiers were deployed across Bangkok on Sunday, according to a Thai official, as authorities tried to deter anti-coup protesters who have threatened a day of flashmob rallies in defiance of the army.

Small but vociferous protests have been held every day in the capital since the army seized power from the civilian government on May 22.

Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha has warned protesters that they - and even their families - face punishment under strict martial law, but has so far taken a relatively light touch to marshalling the rallies, making several arrests but not using force.

Rumours that protesters would stage several rallies organised via social media across Bangkok brought 6,000 security forces to the streets on Sunday, blocking several roads to prevent any assembly.

"We have deployed 38 companies of combined forces of police and military at eight places across Bangkok. The situation so far is normal... there is no sign of any protest," deputy national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told AFP.

Scores of police stood guard at the key Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok's commercial heart, according to an AFP reporter, while dozens of soldiers in riot gear were also seen nearby.

One of the apparent protest organisers, Sombat Boonngamanong - a fugitive Red Shirt activist - has defied a military summons to goad the army via his Twitter account.

"The people have no weapons, the people can not use force, we can only annoy them (soldiers)," Sombat tweeted on Saturday.

Protesters have gathered in small groups which peaked at around 1,000 last weekend, but have generally numbered in the low hundreds.

Among them are members of the Red Shirt movement - supporters of the ousted government of Yingluck Shinawatra and her billionaire brother Thaksin, who lives in self-exile to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.

But there are also ordinary pro-democracy campaigners drawn from the Bangkok middle class.

General Prayut said he was prodded into taking power to restore peace and order after several months of anti-government protests which saw 28 people killed and hundreds of others wounded.

The tough-talking army chief has said democracy will not be restored for at least a year as the nation first needs vaguely-defined reforms.

Critics say his reasoning is a smokescreen for a long-planned power grab by the military and its supporters within the Bangkok-based elite who loathe the former premier Thaksin and accuse him of toxifying Thai politics since his emergence in 2001.

Thaksin, who draws widespread support among the rural poor of the north and northeast as well as sections of the urban middle and working classes, was ousted in another military coup in 2006.

Parties led or aligned to him have won every election since 2001.

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