Coup opponents rally briefly at seven city sites but mostly avoid arrest
The military and fast-moving anti-coup protesters played a cat and mouse game yesterday as security measures were stepped up at about seven prime locations in Bangkok and major provinces.
Security forces descended on key business centres in the capital and the provinces, including Chiang Mai in the north and Nakhon Ratchasima in the northeast, after receiving intelligence that anti-junta protesters would demonstrate.
In Bangkok, Victory Monument, Ratchaprasong, King Taksin Monument, Democracy Monument and the Central shopping mall in Bang Na were closed shortly before noon in the wake of demonstrations.
Pro-democracy activist Sombat Boongnarmanong, who is wanted by the junta, used Facebook to call for demonstrations in Bangkok.
At around noon, a small number of people appeared at the Ratchaprasong intersection but dispersed inside the Terminal 21 shopping centre at Asok when security forces appeared.
However, security forces arrested a 60-year-old woman at the Ratchapasong intersection who wore a mask to show her disapproval of the coup.
As police arrested her, she shouted “help me” and said she did nothing wrong.
The ruling junta has prohibited groups of more than five people assembling in public for political purposes, but the woman said she had come alone before she was taken to nearby Lumpini Police Station.
Meanwhile, rapid-deployment forces rushed to Asok intersection a few kilometres away to block protesters. Hundreds of people held anti-coup signs and shouted their objection to military seizing power.
Terminal 21 was closed and trains did not stop at Asok BTS station. The BTS announced earlier that trains would not stop at Ploenchit, Chit Lom and Ratchadamri in a bid to stop protests.
Deputy national police chief Lt-General Somyot Pumpanmuang oversaw the operation at Ratchaprasong. Although demonstrators left quickly, plainclothes officers were left at trouble spots in a bid to prevent protesters from returning. Police will check with fast-food giant McDonalds to find out how many branches it has in the capital, with officers dispatched to restaurants. Activist Sombat usually arranges protests from these fast-food outlets.
In Chiang Mai, numerous small protests popped up. They expressed their views, sprayed anti-military graffiti on roads but disappeared before security officials arrived. The graffiti included “No Coup” and “Democracy was seen in Chiang Mai”.
In Nakhon Ratchasima, the pro-democracy White Korat group gathered briefly at The Mall shopping centre before running away.
No protesters in Chiang Mai and Nakhon Ratchasima were arrested.
Security officials stepped up measures in many other provinces, including Samut Prakan, Lamphun and Ratchaburi, but there were no protests.
Junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha monitored the protests closely and instructed troops to handle them accordingly, the Army’s deputy spokesman Veerachon Sukhontapatipak said.
The operation to subdue protests would be conducted leniently, with maximum restraint to avoid violence, he said.