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Soldiers, police deployed across Bangkok fearing anti-coup protests

Thousands of soldiers and police were deployed across Bangkok Sunday, an official said, as anti-coup protesters vowed to stage flashmob rallies in several locations in defiance of an army edict banning political assemblies.

BANGKOK: Thousands of soldiers and police were deployed across Bangkok Sunday, an official said, as anti-coup protesters vowed to stage flashmob rallies in several locations in defiance of an army edict banning political assemblies.

Small but vehement protests have been held since the military seized power from the civilian government on May 22, despite the junta's move to ban all public protests.

The majority have taken place in the Thai capital where demonstrators have become increasingly creative to avoid detection and arrest, including adopting a three-finger salute from the "Hunger Games" films.

The salute has become the unofficial symbol of resistance against the military regime.

"We have deployed more than 6,500 soldiers and police at several key places believed to be the areas for protest this afternoon," said deputy national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung.

"So far the situation is quiet," he added.

Political assemblies of more than five people were banned under martial law declared by Army Chief Prayuth two days before he seized power in a coup three weeks ago.

His troops have so far taken a relatively light touch to policing the near daily rallies, making more than a dozen arrests but not using force.

On Friday the junta said it had captured a prominent anti-coup figure Sombat Boonngamanong who had spearheaded an online campaign to stage illegal flashmob rallies against the military takeover.

He had asked followers to flash three-finger salutes during peaceful demonstrations.

A 'We are all Sombat' Facebook page established since his detention urged demonstrators to meet on Sunday afternoon at five places across the city, including near the Grand Palace and the city's main international airport.

The page told protesters to "move quickly, take a picture (with the salute) and then disappear into the crowd" to avoid arrest.

In a televised address to the nation on Friday, Prayuth warned Thais against using the salute.

"I beg you not to raise the three fingers. Why do you have to imitate them (foreigners)?" he said.

"If you want to show it, you can, but can you show it inside your house? Don't show it outside," said the army chief.

Prayuth said he was forced to seize power after nearly seven months of anti-government protests which saw 28 people killed and hundreds of others wounded.

The army chief has said elections are not expected to be held for at least a year to allow vaguely-defined reforms leading to a new constitution to be drawn up in an effort to end a political crisis stretching back almost a decade.

Critics accuse the junta of using the violence as a pretext for a long-planned power grab by the military-backed royalist establishment which loathes former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire who sits at the heart of Thailand's political schism.

The tycoon-turned-populist politician was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup and lives in self-exile to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.

Thaksin or his allies have won every election in more than a decade, including in 2011 under his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra, helped by strong support among voters in the northern half of the country.

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