Thai Junta Deploys Troops to Block Anti-Coup Rallies (DPA)

By Somchai Kwankijswet and Peter Janssen

BANGKOK (DPA) — Thousands of soldiers and police were deployed in Bangkok Sunday to thwart sporadic protests against the May 22 coup.

Troops and riot police were stationed in the central shopping district where one political activist had vowed to host a "coup party."

Many of the businesses in the area were closed, although cars were allowed on the streets as usual.

"I've changed the venue of the party," Sombat Boonngamanong posted on Facebook, without saying where he wanted his followers to meet.

One woman, who showed up at the venue sporting a Sombat face mask, was arrested by police after she attempted to flee.  

Sombat, an activist of the Red Shirt street protests that occupied the centre of the capital for months in 2010, has defied a summons from the junta for questioning.

"Catch me if you can," he taunted on his Facebook page.

More than 6,000 soldiers and police were mobilized at eight spots in the capital to quell any signs of unrest Sunday, but by mid-day no major demonstration had materialized.

About 50 anti-coup protesters gathered at one intersection shouting "Elections, Elections," and "Army get out, Police get out."

"I'm not afraid of being arrested because I've done nothing wrong," said Thip, a saleswoman. "It's the army that has done wrong."

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power on May 22, saying the coup was necessary to restore order after more than six months of street protests resulting in terrorist attacks and a political gridlock.

On Friday, he vowed to appoint a prime minister once peace is restored, to enact political reforms and hold elections within about 14 months.       

Since coming to power, the National Council for Peace and Order has detained more than 200 people, most of whom were released after seven days or less.

Thailand has been placed under marital law that bans political gatherings of more than five people. The junta has warned protesters that they face immediate arrest.

Despite the ban, sporadic protests of several hundred people have been held over the past week, so far without the outbreak of serious violence.

To quell the protests, the junta has taken to blocking off traditional protest venues before rallies can gather in force.