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May 29, 2014

Thailand's junta bans all anti-coup protests

BANGKOK (AP) — More than 1,000 Thai troops and police sealed off one of Bangkok's busiest intersections Thursday to prevent a planned protest, as authorities said they would no longer allow any demonstrations against last week's military coup.

Truckloads of soldiers blocked all incoming roads to the capital's Victory Monument in a massive show of force at the height of evening rush hour in an area that serves as one of the city's commuter bus hubs.

More than a dozen police prisoner trucks were parked along the emptied roundabout, but there was little sign of protesters, who have come out almost daily to defy a ban on political gatherings.

A Belgian man was detained for displaying a T-shirt saying "PEACE PLEASE," and two Thai women were taken away in a police truck after they showed signs with anti-coup messages.

The anti-coup demonstrations have been generally small and mostly leaderless but protesters had planned to gather Thursday and called for a mass rally on Sunday.

Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung, the deputy national police chief, said the small protests would no longer be allowed. He said nine companies of soldiers and police — about 1,350 — were deployed in Thursday's operation.

"We know their rally is mainly for symbolic reasons, but it's against the law," he said. "We have to keep the law sacred."

Somyot warned that if protesters change their tactics, "we are ready to tackle that."

Earlier, in another part of the city, about 100 students held an anti-coup protest on the campus of prestigious Thammasat University which ended peacefully.

The large army deployment came a day after hundreds of protesters gathered at Victory Monument and outnumbered soldiers. Scuffles broke out in which water bottles and other objects were hurled at soldiers, and a green army Humvee was vandalized with large white letters reading, "NO COUP. GET OUT."

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