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    Thai junta steps up protester warnings

    Hints army may cast off restraint

    Protesters confronted soldiers in riot gear at an anti-coup rally in Bangkok, defying a martial law ban on public assembly.
    Rufus Cox/Getty Images
    Protesters confronted soldiers in riot gear at an anti-coup rally in Bangkok, defying a martial law ban on public assembly.

    BANGKOK — Thailand’s ruling military council stiffened its warnings Sunday against protests over its takeover of power, with its patience apparently wearing thin over demonstrations that have been growing in size and boldness.

    The warning came a day before General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the Army commander and coup leader, was expected to receive the king’s endorsement formalizing his status as head of government.

    After that, it’s anticipated Prayuth may announce plans for reshaping Thailand’s political scene with an interim constitution to replace the one scrapped by the army after Thursday’s coup, and an appointed legislative body.


    After three days of tense but mostly nonviolent confrontations between protesters and security forces, a spokesman for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order warned that officials may have to strictly enforce an army-imposed law that prohibits people from demonstrating against the coup.

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    Hinting that the army was ready to cast off restraint, Colonel Winthai Suvaree said that in case of clashes in which losses or injuries incur, no compensation can be claimed because the country is under martial law.

    ‘‘I want fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters to warn their families that there is no benefit in coming out to oppose [the coup],’’ Winthai told reporters.

    On Sunday, protesters against the coup appeared to number as many as 2,000, growing from a few hundred on Friday.

    Publicity-savvy protesters first confronted police and soldiers outside a McDonald’s restaurant on Sunday, a spot chosen because it was the center of a failed and bloody two-month antigovernment protest in 2010 by many of the same people.


    That uprising by the so-called Red Shirts — whose allies took power in elections in 2011 and held it until deposed in last week’s coup — left more than 90 people dead and well more than 1,000 injured.

    Troops who fanned out Sunday across one of central Bangkok’s major shopping districts were met by a crowd of about 1,000 people, who shouted, ‘‘Get out, get out, get out!’’

    Tensions ran high, and at one point a group of soldiers was chased away by the crowds. By late afternoon, the protesters had moved to Victory Monument, a city landmark a few miles away, with their numbers swelling to around 2,000. Rows of soldiers were gathered, but did not try to break up the rally, which ended peacefully.

    The army faces a dilemma in engaging the protesters: whether to try to crush them and risk an even angrier reaction and international opprobrium, or to tolerate them and risk emboldening them.

    ‘‘Please understand that everyone is carrying out their duties to make the country peaceful,’’ Winthai said. ‘‘Thus, we are asking the general public to warn against and try to stop such [protest] acts from those groups of people, in order to provide safety to both the people and the officers and to bring peace to the country.’’


    The military has sought to limit the protests by detaining figures who might play leadership roles.

    The junta has defended the detentions of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, most of the deposed government’s Cabinet, and dozens of politicians and activists. It also has ordered dozens of outspoken activists, academics, and journalists to report to military authorities. More than 200 people have been officially summoned in lists broadcast on radio and TV.

    The fate of Yingluck — who surrendered herself Friday — and many others remains unclear. Some detainees have been released, and the military has said it expects to free most after about a week.

    There were reports circulating that Yingluck had been released Sunday, but her aide said she had been moved but not freed.

    ‘‘Ms. Yingluck is still under the military’s control, and I have not been informed about her current whereabouts,’’ Wim Rungwattnachinda said. ‘‘She, however, has been out of the army camp that she was held in and she is safe. She has not been freed to go home.’’