BANGKOK: Thai police and soldiers flooded downtown Bangkok yesterday to pre-empt further protests against a May 22 coup after the army chief said a return to democracy would take more than a year.
In a televised address late on Friday, General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military would need time to reconcile Thailand’s antagonistic political forces and to engineer reforms.
Prayuth, who ousted the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra after months of sometimes violent protests, appealed for patience from Thailand’s international allies.
But the response from foreign governments was to keep up the pressure on the ruling junta to call elections quickly. At a conference in Singapore yesterday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel urged the Thai armed forces to release detainees, end censorship and “move immediately to restore power to the people of Thailand, through free and fair elections”.
Australia scaled back relations with the Thai military yesterday and banned coup leaders from travelling there.
At the heart of turmoil is conflict between the Bangkok-based royalist establishment dominated by the military, old-money families and the bureaucracy, and an upstart clique led by former telecommunication mogul Thaksin Shinawatra which draws much of its strength from the provinces.
Security was tight around Victory Monument where protests flared earlier in the week. The closure of the overhead city rail station at the landmark reduced the number of people on streets and walkways.
Security was being enforced by police, who had at least seven large trucks parked nearby. Police stood taking photos of each other, chatting to a small group of soldiers standing around a Humvee with a loudspeaker strapped to the top. Trucks and police also lined the road near a central shopping mall where demonstrations took place a week earlier, but there was no sign of any rallies.
A man was arrested and another fled when police thwarted their attempt to hold a protest at another downtown shopping centre. One of the men held up a sign before a media scrum that said “election only” for less than a minute before police pounced and bundled him into a police truck.