World

Thousands join Thai anti-government run while rival camp pushes back

Biggest protest in years also sees rival camp push back with rally of their own

BANGKOK Thousands of Thais joined a run in the capital yesterday in what appeared to be the biggest show of dissent against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, although he also drew a big show of support at a rival event.

The police estimated more than 13,000 runners and supporters gathered before sunrise at a park in Bangkok, wearing athletic outfits and colourful shoes, to take part in the "Run Against Dictatorship" event.

Some of them shouted slogans such as "Prayut, get out!" or "Long live democracy!" while running the 2.6km course amid a sprinkling of security forces. Many also gave a three-finger salute of resistance to authority.

"I want things to be better," said Bangkok resident Waraporn Waralak, 45, after completing her run. "I want Prayut to get out."

Thailand's government is headed by Mr Prayut, 65, after an election in March last year that the opposition described as having been manipulated to favour the leader's pro-army party.

"This is the biggest gathering since the coup," said Thammasat University's dean of sociology and anthropology Anusorn Unno, adding that the harmless nature of the activity had spurred greater participation than usual.

An excited crowd watched as organisers auctioned bibs bearing numbers significant in Thai politics, such as 2475, the Buddhist calendar year of the revolution that ended absolute monarchy in 1932. To loud cheers, a bib numbered 0044, in reference to the former ruling junta's Article 44 that gave Mr Prayut absolute executive power, was ripped in two on stage.

The event was held in line with people's rights and no laws were broken, a government spokesman told Reuters.

The run followed a rally last month staged by Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the 41- year-old leader of the progressive Future Forward Party, who has emerged as the most outspoken opponent of Thailand's new civilian government.

Mr Thanathorn was charged on Friday with breaching a law on public assembly over last month's rally, and Future Forward faces dissolution this month by the constitutional court.

Sunday's event was called "Wing Lai Loong" in Thai, which translates as "Run to Oust the Uncle", in reference to Mr Prayut's nickname of "Uncle Tu".

It prompted a rival "Walk to Cheer the Uncle" event, held in another park, about 14km away, where thousands also turned out to show support for Mr Prayut.

The clashing views of the two camps aroused memories of protests that periodically roiled the Thai capital before culminating in coups in 2006 and 2014.

Supporters of Mr Prayut, who as army chief, had led the 2014 coup, put nationalism on display by brandishing the Thai flag, while branding Mr Thanathorn and his supporters "nation haters" for their liberal views. - REUTERS

WORLD