Thai junta ends curfew at tourist hotspots, warns over ‘Hunger Games’ salute

In a bid to ease Thailand's tourism woes amid a military coup and political uncertainties, the junta has lifted restrictions on Phuket, Koh Samui and Pattaya... just be careful not to flash the three-fingered salute from 'The Hunger Games' while on holiday there.

A protester flashes three fingers during an anti-coup demonstration at a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand on June 1, 2014. Hundreds of demonstrators shouting "Freedom!" and "Democracy!" gathered Sunday near a major shopping mall in downtown Bangkok to denounce the country's May 22 coup despite a lockdown by soldiers of some of the city's major intersections. Wason Wanichakorn/AP Photo
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BANGKOK // Thailand’s military has ended the curfew at three popular beach resort destinations – Phuket, Koh Samui and Pattaya.

But the restriction imposed on the rest of the country, including Bangkok, will stay in place “until further notice”.

In a televised announcement on Tuesday, the junta said it was ending the curfew in the tourist destinations “to promote tourism and to relieve the impact from the curfew in areas that are peaceful and free from political protests”.

The nationawide curfew was initially introduced, after its May 22 coup, from 10 pm to 5 am local time. The decision drew complaints from the country’s vital tourism industry, which accounts for about 7 per cent of its economy.

Last week, the junta eased the nationwide curfew to midnight until 4 am.

Also on Tuesday, Thailand’s military rulers warned it will arrest those in large groups who display the three-fingered salute borrowed from “The Hunger Games”, the movie series and book trilogy.

“If a single individual raises three fingers in the air, we are not going to arrest him or her,” said Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the military junta.

“But if it is a political gathering of five people or more, then we will have to take some action. If it persists, then we will have to make an arrest,” he said.

Since staging its bloodless coup, the military has prohibited political gatherings of more than five people and tried to enforce a ban on criticism of the coup by closing politically-affiliated television stations and blocking hundreds of websites.

On Sunday, authorities deployed nearly 6,000 soldiers and police in Bangkok to prevent planned protests against the coup. Amid the heavy security, creative forms of protest have emerged. Some people wore masks as they walked through a central shopping district. Others joined small flash mobs, or stood alone, and flashed three fingers in the air.

Asked what the symbol meant, protesters have given varying explanations.

Some say it stands for the French Revolution’s trinity of values: liberty, equality, fraternity. Others say it means freedom, election and democracy.

A photo montage circulating online paired a picture from the science fiction blockbuster “The Hunger Games” with a graphic of three fingers labeled, 1. No Coup; 2. Liberty; 3. Democracy.

In the movies and books it is based on, the salute is a symbol of rebellion against totalitarian rule.

Col Sukhondhapatipak said the military is monitoring the three-fingered salute movement.

“We know it comes from the movie, and let’s say it represents resistance against the authorities,” Col Weerachon said, noting that if authorities encounter the salute they will first ask protesters to stop.

“If it is an obvious form of resistance, then we have to control it so it doesn’t cause any disorder in the country.”

Social activist Sombat Boonngam-anong, who has helped organise anti-coup protests, posted an explanation of the salute on his Facebook page along with a call to step up the silent acts of defiance.

“Raising three fingers has become a symbol in calling for fundamental political rights,” wrote Mr Sombat, a member of the “Red Shirt” protest movement that had backed the now-ousted government and warned it would take action if there was a coup. He called on people to raise “3 fingers, 3 times a day” – at 9 am, 1 pm and 5 pm – in safe public places where no police or military were present.

Thailand has been calm since the army overthrew the nation’s elected government on May 22, saying it had to restore order after seven months of demonstrations that had triggered sporadic violence and left the country’s political rivals in a stalemate.

* Associated Press