Protesters demonstrating against the coup in Thailand are taking inspiration from Hollywood. The three-fingered salute that featured in The Hunger Games movies has been adopted by those trying to persuade the troops to return to their barracks.
The small groups of protesters who have been appearing in locations across Bangkok and elsewhere in the country have been making the symbol at the troops. Others have been posting images on social media.
In the aftermath of the coup launched two weeks ago, the junta detained hundreds of people, including the leaders of the Red Shirt movement that had largely supported the ousted government. Most have been released, though on the condition they avoid political activities.
In an absence of senior leaders, the opposition to the coup has been organising “flash” protests, arranged on social media and springing up in places the troops had not expected. The salute from The Hunger Games has added a symbolically powerful element to the protesters’ arsenal.
The junta says it is aware of the sign being made at the troops and its origin in Hollywood. The army has warned that if people are caught making the salute at a protest or rally they could be detained.
“We know it comes from the movie, and let’s say it represents resistance against the authorities,” Col Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the junta, which has called itself the National Council for Peace and Order, told The Associated Press.
He added: “If a single individual raises three fingers in the air, we are not going to arrest him or her. But if it is a political gathering of five people or more, then we will have to take some action.”
Two weeks after he seized power, army chief Gen General Prayuth Chan Ocha has said there will be no fresh elections for at least 15 months. He said the country first needs to go through a period of political reform and “reconciliation”. The country’s interim government will likely be appointed, not elected.
In the meantime, the junta has launched a full-scale propaganda war, trying to persuade people that the military is on their side. Though it has been censoring the media, detaining protesters and threatening users of social media, it has also been providing free haircuts, meals and musical concerts.
Quite how the international community will react to the Thai army’s actions remains to be seen. Australia has cancelled several military engagements and placed a travel ban on senior members of the junta.
While Britain and other members of the EU have denounced the coup and called for new elections, there has been no word yet on what restrictions might be imposed. A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London said in a statement: “We are currently considering what measures the UK might take, alone and in concert with partners.”