Protesters were back on the streets of Bangkok on Sunday (Oct. 19) despite a ban on public gathering. Demonstrations also took place at several other locations around the country.
Thousands of mainly young Thais have gathered for a fifth straight day of protests demanding sweeping political change to the country’s constitution and monarchy.
The demonstrators received a new warning from the police that they are violating the law; however, few people had been arrested as peaceful rallies were held at several points around Bangkok.
The protest movement — which is calling for the prime minister’s resignation, a more democratic constitution and a reformed monarchy — began in March at universities around the country.
After a lull due to the coronavirus crisis, it was revived in late July, building up strength, particularly in Bangkok.
On Sunday, rallies were called in at least a dozen provinces, including Chiang Mai, a popular tourist destination in northern Thailand. Social media spread the word, though the government said it would seek legal action against accounts posting details of planned protests.
The rallies in Bangkok again drew large crowds, perhaps as many as 10,000 in all, despite the official warnings and intermittent rain.
“If we are together we have a better chance to win, but if we let people fight alone there will be less chance to win,” a 24-year-old protester who called herself Pear said at a rally in the commercial heart of the capital.
“So we are here to express ourselves, what we are wanting and what we are expecting for the future as well.”
The larger rally in Bangkok was held at Victory Monument, a popular meeting point that anchors a traffic circle on a main thoroughfare. The atmosphere there was jumpy due to occasional rumours that police had been spotted nearby.
The current cycle of confrontations began before dawn Thursday, when police broke up an overnight rally outside Government House, which hosts the offices of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
It led Prayuth to declare a state of emergency, banning gatherings of more than five people and allowing the government extra powers to keep the peace.
Protesters ignored the emergency decree and gathered Thursday night in large numbers at a major intersection in Bangkok’s central shopping district, overcoming half-hearted resistance by thin lines of police.
A Friday night rally at a nearby intersection was crushed by a large force of riot police backed by truck-mounted water cannons. The use of force was condemned by rights organizations.
A statement issued late Saturday night by Prayuth’s office said the government had acted within the law in seeking to stop the rallies and did not intend to deny people their rights.
Police made no efforts to break up Saturday’s gatherings, which ended peacefully at 8 p.m., as scheduled by organizers.
The protest movement became particularly controversial when it adopted reform of the monarchy as a demand. The protesters want it to act within the checks and balances of democracy.
The monarchy has long been considered sacrosanct in Thailand, and is protected by a law that makes defaming the royal institution punishable by a prison term of three to 15 years.
The issue has angered Thailand’s conservative establishment, especially the army, which considers protecting the monarchy to be one of its main duties. (Source: Mainichi Japan)