Tensions escalate in Thailand as military junta pleads for patience

BANGKOK // Democracy in Thailand had caused losses for the country, a spokesman for the coup leaders said on Sunday, as the junta sought to combat growing anger from the public.

Small protests have persisted since the army seized power on Thursday after months of conflict between the elected government and a fierce opposition protest movement, and the junta has been pleading for patience.

Troops fanned out on Sunday in one of Bangkok’s busiest shopping districts and blocked access to the city’s Skytrain in an attempt to prevent a third day of anti-coup demonstrations. They were soon met by a crowd of about 1,000 people, who shouted, “Get out, get out, get out!”

Tensions ran high, and at one point a group of soldiers was chased away by the crowds in the Ratchaprasong shopping district. By late afternoon, the protesters had moved to Victory Monument, a city landmark a few kilometres away, and their numbers had swelled past 2,000. Rows of soldiers were gathered, but troops did not move to break up the rally.

A speaker on a military vehicle said through loudspeakers: “Brothers and sisters, please use your reasons and logics, not emotions.”

The junta’s leader, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, had warned people earlier not to join anti-coup street protests, saying normal democratic principles cannot be applied at this time.

The spokesmen for the junta also sought to deflect international criticism.

The US has cut off foreign aid and canceled military exercises with Thailand since the coup. The US also is reconsidering its long military relationship with the South East Asian country, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

The US State Department on Saturday urged “the immediate restoration of civilian rule and release of detained political leaders, a return to democracy through early elections, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Asked about the US relationship, the junta spokesmen expressed hope that Washington might consider what they called special circumstances, referring to several years of disruptive demonstrations by two bitterly divided factions that have at times paralysed the country and led to violent clashes.

“For international issues, another difference is that democracy in Thailand has resulted in losses, which is definitely different from other countries and which is another detail we will clarify,” said the army spokesman.

“For Thailand, its circumstances are different from others. There is the use of weapons of war. Signs of violence against residents are everywhere. This is out of the ordinary.”

The junta has defended the detentions of the former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, most of the deposed government’s cabinet, and dozens of politicians and activists. It also has ordered dozens of outspoken activists, academics and journalists to report to military authorities.

Pravit Rojanaphruk, a columnist for the English-language daily The Nation, said he was reporting to the junta after being summoned.

“On my way to see the new dictator of Thailand. Hopefully the last,” he said on Twitter.

Gen Prayuth has justified the coup by saying the army had to act to avert violence and end half a year of political turmoil triggered by anti-government protests that killed 28 people and injured more than 800.

The protests were part of a cycle of duelling demonstrations between supporters of the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra – Ms Yingluck’s brother, who himself was ousted in a 2006 military coup – and staunch opponents with support of Thailand’s traditional establishment.

The intractable divide plaguing the country today is part of an increasingly precarious power struggle between an elite, conservative minority backed by powerful businessmen and staunch royalists based in Bangkok and the south that can no longer win elections, and the political machine of Mr Thaksin and his supporters in the rural north who backed him because of populist policies such as virtually free health care.

* Associated Press

Published: May 25, 2014 04:00 AM

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