Thai demonstrators rally to demand release of protest leaders

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After a one-day break, protesters in Thailand resumed their activities on Friday, turning their attention to fellow demonstrators who remained in jail after their arrest.

At least 2,000 people gathered outside Bangkok Remand Prison cheered the release of one of the protest leaders, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, but were demanding the freedom of seven others.

“We have all come here to wait for our seven friends to be freed,” Jatupat told the crowd after his release. “If they are not released, we will oust Prayut Chan-o-cha.”

In fact, ousting Prayut is among the key goals of the protesters, who have intensified their efforts over the past 10 days with large demonstrations around the capital. Their other key demands are changing the Constitution to be more democratic and reforming the monarchy.

The implicit criticism of the royal institution has irked conservative Thais because the monarchy traditionally has been treated as sacrosanct and a pillar of national identity.

The protest outside the prison was relatively low-key, but there are concerns that the weekend may bring a confrontation, as a deadline for Prayuth’s resignation set by the student-led protesters comes due.

Several protesters said they intended to stay outside the prison overnight.

The protests were launched several months ago by university students but increased in frequency and intensity last week. They carried on despite a state of emergency declared for Bangkok that made their gatherings illegal, and even after one rally was broken up by force by riot police backed by water cannon. They also spread to other areas of the country.

In a gesture to appease the protesters, Prayut revoked the state of emergency on Thursday.

He has urged the protesters to let Parliament deal with their grievances. Parliament will debate the political crisis from Oct. 26 to 28.

Despite the concession, protesters continue to insist Prayut to step down. They said they would return in large numbers if he did not meet their three-day deadline to resign, which would appear to end on Saturday night.

The appeal for a solution in Parliament was unlikely to win over protesters, as some of their core complaints are that the Constitution and the political structure it created are undemocratic, in part because it was written after a 2014 military coup.

Prayut himself led that coup, which toppled an elected government during political unrest that featured widespread street protests.

Complicating the situation are counter-protests held by royalists who declare they are defending the monarchy. Some have been held in several cities around the country this week, including one in Bangkok that led to clashes. (Source: CNA)

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