BANGKOK — Anti-coup protesters staged another largely peaceful demonstration at Victory Monument in Bangkok today, despite one military officer's attempt to rile the crowd with a provocative diatribe.
Speaking from an army humvee fitted with a loudspeaker, a military officer accused the protesters of being paid by their organisers, and urged the foreign media covering the demonstration to go home because they don't understand Thailand.
"There have been many coups in Thailand. This isn't the first time," the unnamed soldier told the foreign press. "The foreign correspondents are scroundels. They are here to sell Thailand."
The comments drew heated responses from the protesters, many of whom yelled insults at the soldiers and riot police who were stationed by the humvee on Phayathai road. Others threw bottles of water in anger.
"The protesters don't love the country," the military officer said over the loudspeaker in response. "Those who throw water bottles are scums."
He continued, "The military is here to maintain order and ensure safety for the people, whereas the protesters are here to cause trouble. They cause traffic jams that affect the public … [affected citizens] should come look at these damn protesters … who don't want our country to be peaceful."
The military officer made several other bold assertions, including the accusation that armed elements had infiltrated the protest and were plotting to overthrow Thailand's important institutions. He also claimed that the military has photographed every protester and will visit them in their homes.
The unusually provocative comments led many protesters to suspect that the military was trying to goad demonstrators into attacking the security forces to provide the pretext for a military crackdown.
The presence of water cannons and several companies of troops — some armed with automatic rifles — on the nearby Phayathai Road appeared to confirm protesters' suspicions that the army was prepared for a crackdown.
The arrival of of pro-coup protesters on the scene added to the rally's already-tense atmosphere. The group was led by Cpt. Songklot Chuenchoopol, a military officer known for his activism against the former government.
The pro-coup group shouted verbal abuses at the anti-coup protesters and instigated several heated arguments. However, no violence broke out, and Cpt. Songklot disappeared from the protest shortly after the military loudspeaker started berating the anti-coup crowd.
The protesters eventually started to disperse after sundown. Road traffic and Skytrain service — which was suspended on the stations close to Victory Monument during the rally — was restored. No arrests or injuries were reported.
Today's protest marks yet another outburst of defiance against the military junta led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, which has banned public gatherings of more than five people. Earlier this afternoon, Gen Prayuth warned that those who defy the ban will be met with "harsh" law enforcement and may face prosecution in military courts.
Despite the military officer's accusations, our correspondents at the scene found no evidence of protesters being paid. In fact, the anti-coup demonstrations that have cropped up around the city since the military staged a coup d’etat last Thursday appear to lack a clear leader or organising force. The Facebook page "People Have Had Enough," which was behind earlier protests at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre (BACC), said today that it has asked supporters to suspend activities for "1-2 days" to monitor the situation.
However, a fugitive activist, Sombat Boonngarm-anong, has already called for another major anti-coup rally at Ratchaprasong Intersection in Bangkok on 1 June.
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