World

Thousands in Bangkok demand major reforms

10,000 gather at Democracy Monument, seeking new Constitution, among other demands

BANGKOK: An estimated 10,000 people chanting "down with dictatorship" and "the country belongs to the people" joined an anti-government demonstration in Bangkok yesterday, one of the biggest since a 2014 coup in Thailand.

By yesterday evening the protesters - who are demanding major democratic reforms - had taken over the busy intersection around Bangkok's Democracy Monument, which was built to mark the 1932 revolution that ended royal absolutism.

Police closed off surrounding main roads to stop incoming traffic, and an official at Bangkok's Metropolitan Police Bureau told AFP the crowd size had grown to 10,000 by 6pm (7pm, Singapore time).

Students have organised protests almost daily for the past month, but the latest drew wider support with demands for the departure of former junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha's government, a new Constitution and an end to the harassment of opposition activists.

Some students have also called for reform of the monarchy as well.

"We want a new election and a new Parliament from the people," student activist Patsalawalee Tanakitwiboonpon, 24, told the cheering crowd at the Democracy Monument. "Lastly, our dream is to have a monarchy which is truly under the Constitution."

Partly inspired by the Hong Kong democracy movement, the protesters claim to be leaderless and have relied mostly on social media campaigns to draw support.

Mr Prayut won elections last year that the opposition says were held under rules to ensure he kept power.

The most vocal opposition party was subsequently banned.

ACCUSATIONS

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

Students have presented 10 reforms 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 Mr Prayut has said the King requested it not be used for now.

Several dozen royalists also held a rally, holding up gold-framed portraits of the king and other royals.

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.

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. - REUTERS, AFP

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