Leaders surrender as protest march disperses

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Anti-government protesters confront riot police officers during a protest to demand that the military government hold a general election by November. Reuters

BANGKOK (Reuters) –Eight Thai pro-democracy protest leaders surrendered to police after police blocked a march held on the anniversary of a 2014 coup in their demand for early elections.

Around 500 protesters gathered at two locations in Bangkok to mark four years since the coup but were outnumbered by around 3,000 police and had dispersed by late afternoon.

The protest came amid widespread concern over the military’s prolonged rule and what rights groups say its misuse of repressive laws to silence critics.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha reiterated that a general election will he held next year as protesters demanded a November vote.

The demonstrators, some holding Thai flags and cartoons of Prayuth as Pinocchio, set off from Thammasat University but were blocked by rows of police in black uniforms from reaching the prime minister’s offices at Government House.

Protesters intermittently tried to push up against police throughout the day.

Government House and surrounding streets were declared a no-go zone and protesters were warned not to defy a junta ban on public gatherings.

Prayuth, who as army chief led the 2014 coup ending months of street protests and political gridlock, reiterated on Tuesday that there would be no election until next year.

“I’ve said already that it will be according to my steps and that is early 2019 and no sooner,” Prayuth told reporters.

Rangsiman Rome, 26, a protest leader who surrendered to police, called on activists to go home.

Two protesters were arrested near UN headquarters. Police said they broke the law but declined to give details.

The junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said it had filed charges against five protest leaders for holding an illegal gathering.

Amnesty International in a statement the NCPO used repressive laws to target critics.

Protests against military rule have taken place intermittently in Bangkok since the start of the year.

Some have been led by young activists, others by 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.

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