BANGKOK: Public anger at the Thai military’s coup grew Sunday as more than one thousand protesters shouting “Get Out!” marched across the capital Bangkok in defiance of an army warning against protests.
Demonstrators began marching in the Chidlom district and made their way across the city to the Victory Monument cheered by onlookers, an Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene said, after a tense standoff with armed soldiers in the city’s retail heart.
It was the largest expression of dissent since the army seized power on Thursday after months of political turmoil.
There was no sign of soldiers or police on the streets during the march on Sunday, which went ahead despite a junta statement calling on people not to protest and a martial law ban on gatherings of more than five people.
“I am not afraid of them because the more we are afraid of them, the more they will stamp on us,” protester Kongjit Paennoy, 50, told AFP. “We want an election — to choose our own boss.”
The military has detained former premier Yingluck Shinawatra and scores of other ousted government leaders and political figures since the coup, which brought sharp international criticism.
“I ask for people’s understanding on the current situation and that they refrain from anti-coup rallies, because democracy cannot proceed normally at the moment,” said junta spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree on Sunday morning, adding a warning against using social media to “incite” unrest.
Before the main march, minor scuffles broke out as dozens of protesters, some waving signs reading “Junta Out” and “Fuck Coup,” staged a boisterous demonstration, jeering angrily and pushing at lines of armed soldiers outside a Bangkok shopping mall.
At least two protesters were taken away by the troops, one bleeding, according to AFP journalists.
Bangkok has seen several smaller outbreaks of protest against the junta since army chief Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha launched his takeover on Thursday.
Witnesses also reported demonstrations overnight in parts of the Shinawatra family’s northern power base, with rallies in the city of Khon Kaen and a heavy military presence in Thailand’s second largest city Chiang Mai.
The junta on Saturday announced it had disbanded the Senate and placed all law-making authority in Prayut’s hands.
Civil liberties have been curbed, media restrictions imposed and most of the Constitution abrogated.
Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk was the first reporter to be summoned by the junta. He reported to a Bangkok army conference center on Sunday with black tape across his mouth in protest, according to witnesses.