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Thais rally again in defiance of emergency law

Oct 18, 2020 20:55 IST

Tens of thousands of young Thais took to the streets of Bangkok on Sunday for a fifth straight day of protests demanding sweeping political change, in defiance of the country's state of emergency. While a vast crowd met at Victory Monument — an important transportation hub — several thousand rallied at the Asok junction, in the commercial heart of the capital. By splitting up rally sites, pro-democracy protesters were hoping to make an aggressive police response harder to organize. Conscious of the need to be vigilant, but hampered by a shortage of loudspeakers, demonstrators on Sunday learned hand signals to help them quickly pass messages through the large and noisy crowds. One of the protest leaders demonstrated a tornado motion with her hand, explaining this was the most important signal. "This means we have to go home, we have to run. This is danger," she said. The protest movement — which is calling for the prime minister's resignation, a more democratic constitution and a reformed monarchy — began in March at universities around the country. After a lull due to the coronavirus crisis, it was revived in late July, building up strength, particularly in Bangkok. On Sunday, rallies were called in at least a dozen provinces, including Chiang Mai, a popular tourist destination in northern Thailand. The protesters charge that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander led a 2014 coup that toppled an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule and passed in a referendum in which campaigning against it was illegal is undemocratic. The protest movement became particularly controversial when it adopted reform of the monarchy as a demand. The protesters want it to act within the checks and balances of democracy. The monarchy has long been considered sacrosanct in Thailand, and is protected by a law that makes defaming the royal institution punishable by three to 15 years imprisonment. The issue has angered Thailand’s conservative establishment, especially the army, which considers protecting the monarchy to be one of its main duties.