Backpackers out, protesters in: Bangkok hostels offer secret refuge

A 27-year-old anti-government protester rests with fellows in a hostel that houses protesters during the ongoing demonstrations in Bangkok, Thailand, October 19, 2020. REUTERS/Jiraporn Kuhakan

BANGKOK (Reuters) - As thousands of Thai protesters try to keep up months of anti-establishment rallies, dozens of hostels across Bangkok have thrown open their doors to give weary demonstrators a refuge, sometimes for free.

Since mid-July, protesters led by young Thais and students, often organised online, have defied crackdowns to keep calling for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to resign and to challenge a longstanding taboo by demanding reform of the monarchy.

With protesters at times facing water cannon and playing cat and mouse with police in sweltering conditions until late into the evenings, many have been sleeping on the street.

"I felt bad for those who didn't have places to stay," said a 23-year-old medical student, who declined to give her name due to concerns about being targeted by authorities.

She has been offering free rooms online to protesters, she said.

A Twitter account, Mobmeeteenon ("protesters have places to sleep"), is helping to link up protesters to rooms after the government brought in an emergency decree this month and cracked down on people camping outside government houses.

Another 25-year-old volunteer, who has also helped organise places to stay, said around 500 people had been hosted since the effort to provide rooms started.

Besides a bed, protesters are given three meals per day and transportation to protests.

There is plenty of space in hotels and hostels in usually bustling Bangkok, which is virtually empty of foreign tourists since authorities shut Thailand's borders to most commercial flights in April to contain the coronavirus.

One protester from Chonburi province east of Bangkok was surprised to be offered a bed when he thought he would be sleeping on the street after a recent rally.

"There are four people sleeping in this room. This is my spot," said the 27-year-old, speaking from a hostel in central Bangkok.

The government tried to defuse tensions on Thursday, rolling back an emergency decree that had included bans on political gatherings of five or more people and on publishing news that could affect security.

(Reporting by Jiraporn Kuhakan; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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