BANGKOK — Stacks of shipping containers, coils of barbed wires, and phalanxes of security officers – some of them dressing suspiciously like pro-democracy protesters – pop up in central Bangkok on Wednesday to defend against a demonstration that never came.
The massive barriers were centered around the Crown Property Bureau, where the monarchy’s finances and assets are managed, and expanded to a number of roads and intersections, causing much chaos to the rush hour commuters. The bureau was initially marked for a protest this afternoon, but activists already moved it to another location far to the north in the city.
WTF Thailand: Traffic chaos broke out in downtown Bangkok after commuters woke up to find cops blocking some roads with containers to deter a march to the Crown Property Bureau — even though the protest was already moved to another location. #Thailand #รถติด #25พฤศจิกาไปSCB pic.twitter.com/Z4n45LuVbw
— Khaosod English (@KhaosodEnglish) November 25, 2020
Yet, police said an extreme measure was necessary to protect the bureau from any possible disruption from the protesters.
“The protesters already announced they will rally at a certain important venue. And it is our duty to protect important venues,” police spokesman Yingyot Thepjamnong said at a news conference Wednesday.
He also said the barricades were necessary to prevent the demonstrators from “infringing on other people’s rights and liberties.”
The Free Youth group announced on Tuesday night that the protest was moved to Siam Commercial Bank’s headquarters at 3pm Wednesday. The building is located about 15 kilometers north of the Crown Property Bureau.
Switching protest locations last-minute in order to fool the police into occupying unrelated venues has been a popular technique used by the pro-democracy camp.
But that didn’t stop the security forces from deploying much of their arsenal on the streets around the bureau. LRAD, or long range acoustic devices, were parked next to shipping containers and razor wires. Some officers were seen rehearsing crowd-control drills. Roads affected by the closure include Ratchadamnoen, Phitsanulok, Rama V, and many other smaller streets in the area.
More worryingly, there are internet photos of security officers who dressed up to resemble pro-democracy protesters – wearing hard hats and backpacks.
It is unclear why the security forces would mimic the opposition, but activist Parit Chiwarak suspected a nefarious motive; he quoted an unnamed high-ranking military officer as saying that army’s agent provocateurs planned to infiltrate the protests and cause violence in order to pave the way for a military coup.
“I’d like to announce my policy clearly one more time: our protest is non-violent and unarmed,” Parit wrote online.
Parit and other activist leaders have a bone to pick with Thailand’s oldest bank, the Siam Commercial Bank, or SCB. On Sept. 21 after a two-day protest at Sanam Luang, Parit called on supporters to close their SCB accounts.
The largest shareholder of Thailand’s oldest bank is none other than the ruling monarch. The activists say they want to highlight the monarchy’s wealth and enterprises, which they said should be brought under civilian oversight.
Of course, the internet had a field day with the police seemingly paranoid way of dealing with the protests. Memes and photoshopped images compared the barricades to zombie outbreak movies and other post-acalyptic fiction.