BANGKOK Thai authorities closed parts of the Bangkok shopping mall and mutilated public railway networks over the weekend in a bid to prevent young demonstrators from continuing their anti-government protests.
It did not work.
Tens of thousands of members of the pro-democracy movement, which has been galvanized by a political awakening among smart social media students, gathered in the Thai capital and around 20 provinces on Saturday and Sunday to call for new elections. a new Constitution and reform towards the high position of the monarchy in Thai society.
I was not always politically active, said Perakarn Tangsamritkul, 23, who attended one of several rallies in Bangkok on Saturday. You should have met me three months ago. Now I understand why we should be here. We need to speak openly.
In recent days, the Thai military-affiliated government, led by Prayuth Chan-ocha, a retired general who orchestrated an army coup in 2014, has stepped up efforts to quell months of protests. But calls for change seem to have only intensified, making political sentiment once taboo suddenly commonplace.
And in a country divided for decades between widely hostile factions, an urban elite and a rural base that has long been ignored as the wealth gap in Thailand has widened, the current pro-democracy movement has overcome traditional political divisions.
A 30-year-old civil servant who attended a rally at the Victory Monument in Bangkok on Sunday said he was pleased the younger generation had the courage to come out. He declined to give his name given his work in government, but said he and the protesting students were united in the belief that the country needed to change.
For years, the Thais would elect populist leaders, only to see them removed from military coups or court maneuvers that had been approved by the palace. The country’s old political guard argued that the elected prime ministers were corrupt and capable of milking the system, captivating the masses with promises of free health care and harvest subsidies.
According to the ingrained political elite in the country, some of those elected leaders also challenged the authority of the constitutional monarch by positioning themselves as rivals in terms of the king’s popularity.
Defending the monarchy was a major justification for the 2014 coup, after which democracy was declared. Mr Prayuth refused to hold elections for another five years. A constitution drafted by the military decreed that the Senate be fully appointed. Open critics of the army and monarchy have been imprisoned, killed, or disappeared.
Even when elections were held last year, international observers considered them less than fair. A first party that promised to move the country beyond old politics won a surprisingly large number of votes and was later ordered to disperse in what was seen by human rights groups as a politically motivated ban. Mr Prayuth remains the country’s prime minister and defense minister.
The state of affairs in Thailand has recently forced some members of the institution to speak out.
On Saturday, hundreds of doctors, some of the hospitals known to be managed by the Royalists, signed a letter against water cannons used to forcefully disperse protesters the day before. The water was associated with a chemical irritant and the sight of students fleeing riot police shocked many Thais.
A few hours later, Dr. Jarosdao Rimphanitchayakit, a surgeon, was fired for her name among 386 doctors.
Mongkutwattana Hospital has a clear policy of not accepting those who are part of the enemy movement, said Major General Rienthong Nanna, the hospital director.
Thai authorities have set up a fearsome legal framework in an attempt to criminalize the movement. On Thursday, the government issued an emergency decree in which public gatherings of more than four people were banned in the Thai capital, an order that has been completely ignored. With their emergency powers, police can also declare any place in Bangkok outside the protesters’ borders.
Every day, authorities ban more protest leaders, a harsh approach that has prompted new organizers to show up. Thai human rights lawyers say more than 80 protesters have been arrested in the past five days.
On Sunday, police warned that posting a selfie of the protests on social media could lead to two years in prison. This could be done by checking the internet from a protest site.
It’s as if you are taking evidence of your disobedience to the emergency decree, said Major General Yingyos Thepjumnong, a spokesman for the Royal Thai Police.
But the Thai political rebellion will be posted on Instagram and Facebook.
Protesters have formed online alliances with pro-democracy forces in places like Hong Kong. Activists from Nigeria and Belarus have sent millions of congratulations online. A Thai K-pop fan club raised about $ 25,000 for online donations.
Over the weekend, mostly unarmed crowds in Bangkok took inspiration from their Hong Kong counterparts, where protesters spent months refining their tactics to peacefully confront a police force armed with tear gas, water cannons and bullets. rubber: umbrellas, goggles and calls like water. They also followed the wait-and-see strategy until the last minute to notify protest sites, to try to deceive the protest police.
Amid occasional rain over the weekend, Thai protesters formed regular lines to pass helmets and raincoats to those closest to the front lines. As the telecommunications signal weakened, they received news and screaming instructions in the protest columns.
On Sunday, a government spokesman said that while Mr Prayuth was committed to listening to problems from all sides, he was also vigilant against any protesters who might incite violence. Thailand has suffered numerous violent crackdowns on protesters in the past, most recently in 2010 when dozens were killed in Bangkok as demonstrators were forcibly cleared from the streets.
Parliament has been warned to stand by for a special session Monday. Otherwise the legislature was not scheduled to convene until November.
Far more incendiary than the call for Mr Prayuths’s departure are protesters’ demands that the king, one of the richest monarchs in the world, adhere to the Constitution instead of sailing on it like a half-day being.
Thailand abolished the absolute monarchy in 1932, but the crown retains an exalted status and is protected by strict laws penalizing any humiliation. On Friday, two protesters were accused of committing an act of violence against the queens’ freedom after they had screamed in surprise at a royal convoy passing through Bangkok two days earlier. If convicted, they could face life in prison.
king Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, his queen and notable heir live mainly in Germany, although the king has expanded his control over the crown finances and military units. The protesters have stressed that they are not seeking to overthrow the king; they applauded the monarchy reform by the thousands on Sunday.
The day before, protesters marched in front of a spray-painted sign on a street displaying the Thai flag overlaid with the words Republic of Thailand. The country is officially a kingdom.
At first, the demonstrators, despite their identities covered in face masks or helmets, quickly posed for selfies before leaving nervously. But soon they were delayed, raising their arms in the three-finger salute that has become a hallmark of the protests.
A young man walked the word king written near the flag. The crowd members gasped. Then they started clapping.
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