BANGKOK - A major Bangkok shopping center was ordered closed by police Sunday after anti-coup protesters tried to prevent an officer from arresting one of their fellow demonstrators.
Thousands of customers in the Terminal 21 mall at the major Asoke intersection had to abandon early afternoon shopping, eating and movie-going after dozens of police moved inside the complex, following a five-minute rolling fight past pastry shops, a Starbucks and clothing stores.
Police and soldiers, some carrying automatic weapons, as well as two army trucks, including a Humvee with a mounted machine-gun, responded to the intersection. The incident began 20 minutes earlier when several people at the entrance to Terminal 21, adjacent to the BTS Asoke Skytrain station, held aloft anti-coup placards and chanted “Freedom.”
Such demonstrations are illegal under decrees issued by army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha who has seized all executive and legislative power in the country.
Earlier Sunday, nearly 6,000 soldiers and police had deployed to eight locations, including other shopping plazas and the Victory Monument, to discourage flashmob-style protests. There were no rallies at those locations.
Instead, word spread through social media to converge on Terminal 21 after a posting of the location was announced on the Facebook page of Sombat Boon-ngamanong, the fugitive leader of the Red Sunday Group.
Sombat has taunted authorities since the May 22 coup, daring them via social media “To Catch Me if You Can.”
The dozens of anti-coup protesters, some from the red shirt movement, and perhaps 100 or more sympathetic spectators who converged on the area defied the top general's ban on such gatherings.
Some on the Skywalk made a three finger salute, emulating the gesture meant to express appreciation and respect to those departing made by the repressed residents of poverty-stricken District 12 in the “Hunger Games” movies.
Anyone apprehended defying Thailand's coup faces trial by military courts. Several arrests were reported Sunday.
In a nationally broadcast address Friday, Prayuth announced a timetable of up to 15 months before the holding elections and framing a constitution to replace the one he has expurgated.
Since the coup, which came several days after martial law was declared, several hundred politicians, activists and academics have been summoned to turn themselves in to the military. Most have been released after being warned not to engage in political activity or to leave the country.
A spokesman for the National Council of Peace and Order, the junta's formal organization, stated in a VOA interview, the coup was carried out to rid the kingdom of the influence of the family of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon, was ousted in Thailand's previous coup, in 2006. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who became prime minister following 2011 national elections, was forced to step aside as the leader of the country's caretaker government following a judicial decree that she and some members of her Cabinet had abused their authority.
Yingluck, who was among those who have been detained and released, posted on Sunday a picture of her with her son on social media, commenting that a lot had changed in Thailand during the past week, adding she wants to “thank you all again for support of me all along. And I would like to hereby extend my moral support to all Thais.”
Bangkok urbanites and ardent royalists, along with much of the elite in the powerful military, have been strong opponents of Yingluck and Thaksin, who is in self-imposed exile, facing prison for a corruption conviction should he return home.
The United States and other countries have called for a swift return to democratic government.
Since the coup, Thailand’s revered ailing 86-year-old king has not made an appearance. But a royal appointment issued in his name was given to General Prayuth, formalizing the army chief’s hold over the government.
Thailand has seen 19 successful or attempted coups since the abolition of absolute monarchial rule in 1932. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, also known as Rama IX, has reigned for nearly 68 years, making him the world’s longest-serving current head of state.