Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha warned on Thursday that an anti-government rally scheduled for this weekend in Bangkok could trigger a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand and demanded that it be canceled.
Prayut, in a televised statement, said the mass rally, which could be the biggest protest yet against his government, posed “a huge risk of new infections”.
Anti-government protesters hold signs saying #freeAnonNampa and #freePanupongJadnok outside the Bangkok Detention Center, where the two activists are being held on September 6, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Geti / Kyodo)
“And with that, you also create an extremely great risk to the livelihoods of tens of millions of Thais comrades,” he said.
He urged all stakeholders to put aside political issues and instead focus on the country’s economic recovery.
“Any major outbreak of infections will lead to dire consequences and even worse economic devastation, the types of which we have never seen. Please think about it,” he pleaded.
“Your protests are delaying the economic recovery because you are affecting business confidence,” Prayut said.
The unauthorized meeting of mostly disappointed youths is set to begin Saturday afternoon at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus and continue overnight, before demonstrators march on the Government House on Sunday.
On August 10, the protesting students presented a 10-point manifesto for the monarchy reform, which has long been protected from criticism under the strict lese-majest law.
Rallies attracting mostly young people have recently taken place almost daily in Thailand, with participants also calling for Pray’s resignation as well as constitutional changes.
Local media reported that the upcoming rally is expected to attract about 50,000 participants, with nearly 10,000 anti-riot police to be deployed.
Prayut said, “I have demanded that our police forces be tolerant. I believe in the good understanding of the protesters.”
The largest protest since the 2014 military coup led by then-army chief Prayut took place on August 17 with about 20,000-30,000 participants.
In his speech, Prayut also said, “Let me tell all the protesters, now, out loud and clear that I hear you have political complaints and that you have issues with the Constitution. I respect your views.”
“But now, our country has some very immediate painful issues that need to be addressed,” he said. “Let’s try to get through this global crisis and then we can get back into politics.”
Thailand has recorded new infections with less than 10 per day. On Thursday, health authorities said there was none to report.
The total number of cases remains at 3,490, with 58 deaths.
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