Thai democracy protesters rally against govt despite Covid warnings


Pro-democracy activist Parit 'Penguin' Chiwarak holds a flag during an anti-government march as they commemorate the anniversary of the 1932 Siamese Revolution in Bangkok on June 24, 2021. - AFP

BANGKOK (AFP): Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters rallied in Bangkok Thursday (June 24) to call for the government's resignation, defying warnings from authorities about the kingdom's soaring coronavirus cases.

The marches came on the 89th anniversary of the Siamese Revolution -- the uprising that transformed Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.

Bangkok was rocked by near-daily protests against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha's government in the second half of 2020, but the pro-democracy movement has lost steam after virus outbreaks and the jailing of student leaders.

Authorities have clamped down on public gatherings as the kingdom grapples with a third wave of infections, with its daily case toll hovering around the 3,000 mark.

Despite police warnings, hundreds gathered at Democracy Monument, a major intersection in Bangkok, and marched in the direction of Parliament House to protest against the rule of Prayut, the former military chief who came to power in a 2014 coup.

Early-bird protesters gathered at the intersection before dawn for a candlelight ceremony.

Som, a 16-year-old student protester, said she wasn't worried about the coronavirus risk.

"We have never had any real democracy," Som told AFP.

"The country is not going anywhere."

Student leader Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak -- who is facing royal defamation charges and was released on bail last month -- marched to a drum beat wearing a plastic golden crown and carrying a flag.

One protester was dressed like the US Statue of Liberty and demonstrators burned a fake constitution -- the same week the Thai parliament debated changes to the country's charter.

"Our demands won't be lowered... The constitution must come from the people," Jatupat 'Pai' Boonpattararaksa said over a loudspeaker.

Some demonstrators carried signs that read "abolish 112," a reference to the kingdom's harsh royal defamation laws that carry a 15-year jail term for those convicted of insulting the monarchy.

There are also demonstrations planned across the country, from the tourist city of Chiang Mai in the north to the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

The Thai pro-democracy movement sent shockwaves through the country's establishment last year, particularly the protesters' most controversial demand -- a call to reform how the monarchy operates.

Some 150 people have been charged since the movement started, with key leaders hit with multiple counts under Thailand's tough royal defamation laws.

Many of them were released on bail under conditions that include not protesting.

The kingdom has recorded more than 228,500 total Covid cases and 1,744 deaths.

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