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Army checkpoints in Bangkok get flowery makeover

Friday - 3/7/2014, 11:00am  ET

THANYARAT DOKSONE
Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- Military checkpoints set up in Thailand's capital to keep security during the country's political unrest are getting a makeover in a bid to project a kinder, gentler image, the army said Friday.

Maj. Gen. Wara Boonyasit, a division commander, said soldiers have decorated some bunkers with colorful flowers and potted plants after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra suggested that the 176 checkpoints around Bangkok may be unnerving residents and scaring foreign tourists.

Soldiers were deployed in force around the capital last week after a spate of armed attacks on anti-government demonstrators who are demanding Yingluck's resignation. While the violence has eased, two people were slightly wounded Friday by gunshots fired from a park in the heart of Bangkok that is occupied by the protesters, police said.

Wara said checkpoints -- some of which have been decorated with flowerpots -- would also be relocated to less prominent locations to become less obtrusive.

Army Commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday acknowledged the image-softening effort, joking that the bunkers might be decorated with flowers and pink curtains. But he insisted that soldiers retain their tough military bearing, and not act like fey theatrical performers.

A 31-year-old woman was shot Friday while walking on a street and a taxi driver was wounded in the leg while driving near the protest encampment at Lumpini Park, said police Col. Chaiya Kongsub. He said the bullets came from inside the park, but did not say who fired them.

Later Friday, gunshots and a small blast were heard near where protesters had gathered outside a building owned by the family of the prime minister, but no injuries were reported.

Twenty-three people have been killed and hundreds wounded in more than three months of protests in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand.

Casualties have occurred on both sides, with police among the dead. The websites of the Bangkok Post and other major Thai newspapers reported late Friday that a court near Bangkok issued an arrest warrant for Issara Somchai, one of the top leaders of the protest group, and five of the group's guards on charges of attempted murder, assault while holding someone captive, and robbery.

He is alleged to have directed the assault and detention of a man who said he was captured at a protest site and held for five days, beaten and then tossed in a river.

Issara has denied any involvement in the incident. Arrest warrants on various charges have been issued for many of the leaders of the protest, but have been ignored or thrown out by courts sympathetic to their cause.


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