Thai police declare no-go zones for anti-junta march

Police officers stopping a pro-democracy activist from handing out fans with caricatures of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha during a rally calling for a general election outside a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 18 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thai police declared Bangkok's Government House and surrounding streets a no-go zone for Tuesday's (May 22) planned opposition march marking four years since a May 22, 2014, coup, warning protesters not to defy a junta ban on public gatherings.

Around 3,000 police were on standby ahead of the march, which is due to start at Bangkok's Thammasat University and end at Government House in a bid to pressure the military government to hold a general election by November.

The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has repeatedly postponed the election, but now insists a vote will be held by February.

The military took power in 2014 following months of street protests and political unrest.

Deputy national police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul warned protesters that Government House and the surrounding area would be out of bounds.

"I've already ordered that... 50 metres around Government House will be controlled areas," Police General Srivara told reporters, adding that police expect around 1,000 protesters to gather on Tuesday.

He reminded protesters of a junta ban on public gatherings of more than five people.

"If you move, you have already violated the law. If you want to fight, you have to fight according to the law," Pol Gen Srivara said.

The "We Want Voting Movement", an alliance of anti-military groups, called on the junta to stop postponing the election date.

"Thailand cannot be a democratic country... if there is no political participation," the group said in a statement.

The Association of South-east Asian Nations Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urged the military government to "lift restrictions on fundamental rights" and hold an election.

Following the coup, the junta scrapped the Constitution and wrote one that critics say is aimed at consolidating the army's already sweeping powers.

It also banned political campaigning and public gatherings.

Since the coup, the military has set about trying to weaken the influence of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in 2006 and fled abroad.

His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was ousted in the 2014 coup and also fled abroad before being convicted in absentia of corruption.

Thaksin was popular with rural voters but is hated by the military-backed royalist elite and urban middle classes, who accuse him of corruption and nepotism - accusations he denies.

Thaksin lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a graft conviction in 2008 that he says was politically motivated, but he remains active in Thai politics.

Earlier this year, he met lawmakers from his Puea Thai Party in Hong Kong, calling for unity within the party ahead of the election.

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