Thousands protest against Thai government as pressure rises

Pro-democracy protesters attend a rally to demand the government to resign, to dissolve the parliament and to hold new elections under a revised constitution, near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand

Thousands of Thai protesters chanting “down with dictatorship” and “the country belongs to the people” joined an anti-government demonstration in Bangkok on Sunday that was one of the biggest since a 2014 coup.

Students have organised protests almost daily for the past month, but the latest drew wider support for the demands for the departure of former junta leader Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government, a new constitution and an end to harrasing opposition activists.

Some students have also called for reform of the monarchy – once a taboo subject.

“We want a new election and a new parliament from the people,” student activist Patsalawalee Tanakitwiboonpon, 24, told the cheering crowd at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument. “Lastly, our dream is to have a monarchy which is truly under the constitution.”

Prayuth won elections last year that the opposition says were held under rules to ensure that he kept power. The most vocal opposition party was subsequently banned.

Anger has further been fuelled by accusations of corruption, the arrest of some student leaders over earlier protests and the economic fallout from the coronavirus epidemic.

Students have presented 10 reforms they seek to the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn – including curbing his powers over the constitution, the royal fortune and the armed forces.

Thailand’s lese majeste law sets a penalty of up to 15 years for criticising the monarchy, but Prayuth has said the king requested that it not be used for now.

Near the anti-government protest, several dozen royalists also held a demonstration, waving national flags and holding up gold-framed portraits of the king and other royals.

“I don’t care if they protest against the government but they cannot touch the monarchy,” said Sumet Trakulwoonnoo, a leader of the royalist group, Coordination Center of Vocational Students for the Protection of National Institutions (CVPI).

Before the 2014 coup, Bangkok was roiled by more than a decade of often violent clashes between yellow shirt royalist protesters and rival red shirts loyal to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but the new wave of protests has not been violent so far.

“I am old now and can never achieve my goal,” said former red shirt Ueng Poontawee, 62. “Now there are new faces. I am very happy they came out.”

Three student leaders have been charged over accusations of breaching restrictions in organising earlier protests. They have been released on bail, but police say arrest warrants have been issued for a further 12 protest leaders.

In Taipei, a few dozen people demonstrated in support of the Thai campaigners.

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