Thai military may crack down on ‘Hunger Games’ protests

Anti-coup protesters used the three-finger salute from the film "The Hunger Games" as a symbol of resistance at a shopping mall in Bangkok Sunday. (Casey Capachi/The Washington Post)

On Sunday, around 100 Thai protesters gathered at a big downtown mall in Bangkok and raised three-fingers in an act of dissent. The demonstrators were invoking the same salute used in "The Hunger Games," the fictional book series-turned-popular movie franchise set in a dystopian future in which youths from the realm's hinterlands are forced into blood combat to humor spectators in the imperial capital.

In "The Hunger Games," the three-fingered gesture is a sign of defiant solidarity. For these protesters, it was a show of resolve against the country's current de facto rulers: the military, which launched a coup late last month on the back of weeks of political chaos. It's only the latest intervention in a long history of the army interrupting Thailand's democracy. The military has since cracked down on protests and arrested prominent activists and anti-coup politicians.

“At this point we are monitoring the movement,” Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the junta, told the AP on Tuesday in reference to the three-fingered salute. “If it is an obvious form of resistance, then we have to control it so it doesn’t cause any disorder in the country.”

Shortly after the protesters massed in the mall on Sunday, police forced the building to kick out other shoppers from the complex, according to the Bangkok Post. The three-fingered agitators were eventually dispersed, but not before their act was documented by reporters and other observers on social media. They invoked revolutionary slogans -- "liberty, equality, fraternity" -- and called for the restoration of democracy. There are suggestions that more "flash mobs" adopting the "Hunger Games" salute may convene across Bangkok in the days ahead.

These Thais aren't the only ones who opposed a coup with a multi-fingered gesture. After Egypt's military last year toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, many opposed to the army's intervention eventually started flashing a four-fingered sign in honor of the hundreds of pro-Morsi supporters killed at encampments in Cairo. The four fingers were a pun on the name of the square where the worst slaughters took place.

This story has been updated with reports of the Thai military's intention to crack down on protesters adopting the Hunger Games salute.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.

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