Protesters defy warnings

Striking statement: A pro-democracy protester dressed up as the Statue of Liberty standing in front of a police barrier during a rally marking the anniversary of the 1932 Siamese Revolution in Bangkok. — AFP

HUNDREDS of pro-democracy protesters rallied in Bangkok to call for the government’s resignation, defying warnings from authorities about the kingdom’s soaring coronavirus cases.

Yesterday’s marches came on the 89th anniversary of the Siamese Revolution – the uprising that transformed Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.

The rally, which also included some former supporters of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, marked the day when Thailand declared an end to absolute monarchy on June 24, 1932.

Bangkok was rocked by near-daily protests against Prayut’s government in the second half of 2020, but the pro-democracy movement lost steam after the coronavirus outbreaks and 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 yesterday 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 said. “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.“In 89 years since the end of absolutism we have not got anywhere.”

About 2,500 police officers had been deployed to maintain order, said the deputy head of Bangkok police, Piya Tavichai.

“A gathering at this time is not appropriate as it could lead to further spread of the virus,” he added.

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 were 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. — Agencies

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