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Thai protesters confront police, anti-government march blocked
[BANGKOK] Anti-government protesters confronted police on Tuesday soon after they began a march from a university in the Thai capital to Government House to demand that the military government hold a general election by November.
Government House and surrounding streets were declared a no-go zone by police for the opposition march marking four years since a May 22, 2014, coup and have warned protesters not to defy a junta ban on public gatherings.
Around 200 protesters began marching from Thammasat University in Bangkok's historic area but were met with barriers that had been set up earlier and a row of police wearing black uniforms.
A handful of protesters pushed up against police for several minutes before backing off.
Several, including a female protester and a male protest leader, fainted. An ambulance arrived to pick up the female protester, according to reporters at the scene.
Protesters took shelter from the rain under umbrellas and blue plastic tents by late morning, putting a temporary stop to their plans.
One of the protest organisers, Sirawith Seritiwat, also known as Ja New, said protesters planned to march peacefully.
"I hope they will let us walk out. We have no intention to prolong today's activities. I think they will try to stop us ... we will not use violence," Sirawith told Reuters.
Police said up to 500 people showed up and warned protesters not to carry on with their march.
"Authorities will use the law 100 per cent. If they walk out we will use the law immediately. We have put forces all around Government House ... if they come in to these areas there will be a prison sentence of up to 6 months," deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul told reporters.
"Police have no weapons. They are carrying only batons," he said.
The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said in a statement it had filed charges against five protest leaders for holding an illegal gathering.
The NCPO is facing a public perception crisis, according to international and domestic polls that say corruption is as endemic as ever.
The government has also repeatedly delayed the general election, which was first tentatively set for 2015, with the latest date now February 2019.
Some fear the date could be pushed back again.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters gathered earlier at Government House the protesters were welcome to send a representative to the prime minister's office.
"The prime minister works hard ... the NCPO these four years has worked everyday ... All NCPO members have worked hard," Prawit said.
Suchada Saebae, 55, a market vendor, disagreed.
"I came since 6 a.m. this morning because I think the NCPO has done a rubbish job these past four years," Suchada said.
Some protesters carried Thai flags and others held signs with cartoons of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as Pinocchio.
Protests against military rule have taken place intermittently in Bangkok since the start of the year.
Some of them have been led by young activists. Others have been attended by former "red shirts", or supporters of ousted 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.
Thailand has been rocked by pro- and anti-government street protests for more than a decade, some of them deadly.
The military says it carried out the 2014 coup to end the cycle of violence.