BANGKOK — While anti-coup protests are strictly forbidden under Thailand's military regime, anti-American protests are perfectly legal, says a senior police commander.
Pol.Maj.Gen. Amnuay Nimmano, deputy commander of the Bangkok Metropolitan Police, was referring to a one-man-protest in front of the US Embassy in Bangkok today.
The lone protester, Thep Vetchavisit, said he was there to voice his anger towards the US government for downgrading its military relations with Thailand in response to last month's military coup d'etat.
Mr. Thep arrived at the US Embassy on motorcycle and presented caricatures of former American presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon to the embassy officials.
He spent the next ten minutes posing for photos in front of a crowd of reporters outside the embassy.
"America, don't poke your nose into Thailand's [internal] issues," Mr. Thep told reporters. "We have been living for many years peacefully. When the Thais started to fight and kill each other, the soldiers intervened to maintain peace, so that Thais won't kill each other."
Mr. Thep said the American authorities should learn a lesson from Iraq, "which is now a mess," and refrain from interfering with Thai politics any further.
Mr. Thep's one-man-protest was permitted in spite of the ban on all forms of political protests imposed by the military junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
Pol.Maj.Gen. Amnuay, the deputy chief of Bangkok police, said Mr. Thep's outbursts against the US government did not count as a protest.
"No chaotic incidents happened. There was only a gesture of anger about America’s interfering in Thailand's internal affairs, and a demand for the Americans to stop such behaviour," Pol.Maj.Gen. Amnuay said to reporters after Mr. Thep left the scene. "This man's actions do not count as a violation of the legal ban on political protests, because it was merely an expression of anger."
However, Pol.Maj.Gen. Amnuay and the Thai authorities have demonstrated zero tolerance for any expression of anger towards the military junta.
Scores of anti-coup protesters have been arrested over the past month for displaying opposition to the NCPO. Many activists have been detained for merely displaying what have become anti-coup symbols, such as flashing the three-finger salute, eating sandwiches, and reading George Orwell's Nineteen-Eightyfour in public.
Rage against the west
A invitation on social media had previously called on all Thai "patriots" to rally in front of the US Embassy at 2 pm today and forcefully enter the compound to take down the American flag from the embassy's flagpole. However, no prominent leaders of the pro-coup political camp were seen circulating the invitation, leading to speculation that it may have been satire created by anti-coup activists.
Regardless, when only one man showed up for the protest, the plan to storm the US Embassy was inevitably canceled.
Many supporters of the coup are longtime critics of the previous government and hail from Thailand's mostly royalist and conservative political elite. Recently, they have been venting their anger on social media against Western allies, notably the US and the European Union, that have criticised the military regime.
A poll released today claimed that a majority of educated Thais are not concerned by the West's retaliatory measures against the Thai junta. The poll was run by NIDA, a university considered to be supportive of the coup and the political faction that sought the ousting of the former government.
The poll also claimed that fewer than 4% of respondents view the US as "trustworthy."
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