BANGKOK: Thousands of security personnel, backed by armoured vehicles, were deployed on Bangkok’s streets Sunday in a show of force against small but defiant anti-coup flashmob rallies.
One group of peaceful protesters evaded soldiers, police and roadblocks to stage a demonstration in the city’s commercial center in what has become a now daily dance with authorities.
Police said they had arrested “some” of the protesters who had gathered at a walkway linked to a major shopping center.
Political assemblies of more than five people were banned under martial law declared by Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha two days before he seized power in a coup on May 22.
But small, daily protests have been held in the capital since Prayut ousted the civilian government.
A flashmob of around two dozen people gathered at midday near the downtown shopping mall, according to an Agence France-Presse reporter.
Security forces, many carrying riot shields, swiftly encircled the rally and were briefly backed by an armored humvee with a soldier manning a mounted machine gun.
Protesters unfurled a giant poster of Prayut’s face with the words “Thailand 1984” emblazoned below, a reference to George Orwell’s anti-authoritarian novel which has become an accessory for many of the Bangkok protesters.
“I want to call for my freedom . . . there should be equality for everyone,” protester Nantachaporn told Agence France-Presse, giving only one name.
Protesters also gave a three-fingered salute, in an apparent nod to the fictional people’s power movement from “The Hunger Games” film.
“So far there is only one protest in the city . . . we have arrested some of the protesters,” deputy national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told Agence France-Presse, without specifying how many had been held.
Earlier Somyot said more than 6,000 soldiers and police had been deployed at eight locations across the city.
In a game of cat-and-mouse played out over social media, the protesters appeared to wrongfoot authorities, instead gathering at the shopping center.
Other small protests were reported, with at least one person detained by police earlier in the commercial district.
Prayut has warned protesters that they—and even their families—face punishment under strict martial law, which has imposed sweeping curbs on freedoms.
So far his troops have taken a relatively light touch to marshalling the rallies, making several arrests but not using force.
But rights groups have condemned Prayut for using intimidation to deter protesters, summoning likely dissenters to army camps as well as moving to stifle the media.
The number of demonstrators peaked at around 1,000 last weekend, but they have generally met in small groups.