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Thai Forces Descend on Central Bangkok to Stifle Coup Protests

BANGKOK - Thailand's military government sent thousands of troops and police into central Bangkok on Sunday to stop any demonstrations against its seizure of power, and some shopping malls and train stations closed to avoid trouble.

Authorities were anticipating that protesters would gather at several spots in the capital including an area in the center where big malls are located. The military has banned political gatherings of five people or more.

The military took over on May 22 after the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had been weakened by months of protests that had forced ministries to close for weeks on end, hurt business confidence and caused the economy to shrink.

Protests against the coup have taken place in Bangkok most days since then although they have been small and brief.

Deputy police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told Reuters 5,700 police and soldiers were being sent into central Bangkok and rapid deployment units were ready to stop protests that might spring up elsewhere.

Some top-end malls around the Ratchaprasong area have chosen to close or have reduced opening hours, and the operator of the Skytrain overhead rail network has shut several stations in the central area.

"It's a business center and we need to protectively avoid any damage if authorities need to break up a gathering," Somyot said, adding mall owners could also find themselves in trouble with the authorities if protests took place on their premises.

By midday Ratchaprasong was swarming with police and media but there was barely a protester to be seen.

A lone woman was seen sitting at an intersection wearing a white mask with the word "People" written on it. Within a few minutes she was detained by police.

A group of about 30 people protested inside the Terminal 21 mall in the Asoke area. Most were signalling their opposition to the coup by holding three middle fingers of one hand up in the air, which some said stood for freedom, equality and brotherhood. Police detained one of the protesters.

- Reuters