Thousands turnout in Bangkok for anti-government protest

(Update 2: adds protesters’ statements)

Bangkok, Sep 19 (EFE).- Thousands of students and opponents to the Thai government gathered on Saturday in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok to demand a reform of the Constitution, the dissolution of the current Parliament and democratic elections.

Police said 5,000 protesters were in attendance by mid-afternoon, but more demonstrators were arriving by the minute to join the peaceful protest.

Speeches with demands for the government are planned for later in the evening, with the rally expected to continue until Sunday.

Organizers hope that 50,000 people will attend the protest, which would make it the largest demonstration since the military coup d’etat in 2014 that saw current prime minister and former general Prayut Chan-ocha take power.

“We are very happy with the turnout,” Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, one of the protest organizers, told Efe. “This shows that the people agree with our demands.”

The protest took place despite a ban by authorities.

The demonstrators also gathered at the campus of the nearby prominent Thammasat University, which opened its gates to the protesters after initially saying it would not allow them in.

Police say that riot officers have been mobilized and that some 10,000 officials will be deployed around the area.

Fences and barricades have been placed to cordon off the Democracy Monument, where thousands of people gathered in July at the start of the student-led movement.

On Saturday afternoon, several protesters were seen wearing t-shirts mocking the prime minister, while the three finger salute that has become a symbol of the protest featured prominently throughout, as well as gay pride flags in support of the country’s LGBT community.

“The political movement already existed on Twitter, but that was not enough – we had to take to the streets to protest,” 23-year-old Sairoung, who has taken part in three rallies during the current wave of protests that began in July, told Efe.

“Even though we don’t expect any immediate change, we want to say we are not happy with the government.”

Several so-called “red shirt” groups, followers of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from office with another coup d’état 14 years ago to the day, also attended the event.

Their demands include a reform of the constitution and the dissolution of the parliament, which they consider a successor to the military junta that ruled the country between 2014 and 2019.

But their most contentious demand is calling for limits to be placed on the power of the monarchy, subjecting it to constitutional controls, and ending the lèse majesté law that lays down prison terms of up to 15 years and other punishments for criticizing the royal household.

At the demonstration, some signs were spotted bearing veiled criticisms of the current monarch, King Vajiralongkorn.

“The monarchy must stop interfering in politics. It has been doing that for a long time and that must stop in our generation,” said Book, a 28-year-old law graduate.

Vajiralongkorn has not inherited the charisma and respect enjoyed by his father, late Bhumibol Adulyadej, and spends a large part of the year in Germany, evoking criticism during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year Vajiralongkorn married former flight attendant Suthida and named her the queen, months before officially introducing a royal consort, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi.

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