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Thai Protesters Ignore Crackdown to Rally for Fifth Day

Randy Thanthong-Knight
·3-min read

(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of protesters -- calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s government and reform of the monarchy -- filled a busy traffic intersection in Thailand’s capital on Sunday, ignoring a ban on gatherings and threat of crackdowns by the police.

Demonstrators braved rain to gather around Victory Monument, one of the main centers for Bangkok’s public transit, with some holding up pictures of detained protesters and demanding their immediate release. Protests were also reported from other parts of the capital and and in more than a dozen provinces including Nonthaburi, Chonburi and Khon Kaen after organizers called for rallies across the nation.

Organizers used social media platforms to mobilize crowds to avoid being thwarted by authorities as the protests, mostly peaceful so far, continued for the fifth day. Authorities closed several rail stations ahead of the Sunday protests and Prayuth ordered police to be on the lookout for groups that may incite violence during the rallies.

The protesters have broken long-held taboos about publicly criticizing the royal family and questioned laws that stifle discussion of the monarchy. They’re also calling for the resignation of Prayuth’s government and a rewriting of the constitution, which was drafted by a military-appointed panel after the premier, a former army chief, took power in a 2014 coup. The activists say the charter was instrumental in helping Prayuth retain power after the 2019 elections.

“The government may start the process for charter amendment to reduce some pressure but it likely won’t result in everything that the protesters demand,” said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor of politics at Mahidol University near Bangkok.

A state of emergency in the capital and the arrests of more than 50 leaders have failed to deter the mostly student-led protesters with the movement calling for daily demonstrations until their demands are met. The protests are gaining momentum amid the worst economic crisis facing the tourism- and trade-reliant nation, which has passed a $60 billion stimulus to battle the pandemic-triggered slump.

The escalating protest movement across Thailand may still hamper the government’s plan to gradually reopen tourism to foreign visitors on the back of its relative success in containing the coronavirus pandemic. The mass gatherings have raised concerns of a renewed virus outbreak. The country reported five new local virus transmissions on the weekend from the Tak province, that borders Myanmar, which has seen a surge in cases ahead of national elections scheduled for Nov. 8.

“At some point in the next two weeks, the daily protests may lose steam because it would get tiring for protesters with the police arresting leaders and dispersing crowds,” Punchada said. “The protesters may change to holding big gatherings weekly or biweekly instead, although the momentum of movement will remain online.”

(Updates with comment from analyst in final paragraph.)

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