BANGKOK – Thailand’s indefatigable pro-democracy activists took to Bangkok’s streets once more Sunday, this time to protest the military as they push ahead with their marketing campaign for sweeping reforms, together with to the nation’s monarchy.
Round 800 protesters marched to the bottom of the eleventh Infantry Regiment, which is carefully related to the nation’s royal palace. Their quantity grew to nicely over 1,000 as they settled in for speeches by protest leaders.
An advance group of protesters had already pulled away two decrepit buses that had been used to dam the doorway to the bottom and eliminated strands of razor wire. A big contingent of riot police, a number of rows deep, stood their floor in entrance of the gate however no violence was reported by the top of the rally.
The protesters imagine that the military undermines democracy in Thailand, and that King Maha Vajiralongkorn wields an excessive amount of energy and affect in what is meant to be a democratic constitutional monarchy.
The scholar-led protesters for months now have been demanding reforms to make the monarchy extra accountable, despite the fact that criticism of the establishment has lengthy been thought of taboo and feedback judged defamatory of the king and key royals are punishable by as much as 15 years in jail.
“Folks ought to be capable of criticize the king. Folks ought to be capable of examine what he does. On this method, individuals will respect and love him extra,” mentioned activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, who served seven years in jail for defaming the monarchy and is going through legal costs in reference to this yr’s protests.
The protesters additionally need Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his authorities to step down and the structure to be amended to make it extra democratic.
As the military chief in 2014, Prayuth led a coup ousting an elected authorities. His army junta oversaw the rewriting of the structure, which shifted energy from elected politicians to unelected our bodies, and he was returned to energy after elections held beneath the brand new guidelines final yr.
Prayuth faces a authorized problem on Wednesday, when the Constitutional Court docket is to rule on whether or not he illegally stayed in military housing after he retired from the army on the finish of September 2014. If discovered responsible, he could possibly be compelled out of the prime minister’s put up. Protest chief Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak urged the group to rally outdoors the court docket on the day of the decision.
The location of Sunday’s protest was symbolic for a number of causes.
Final yr, the eleventh Infantry Regiment was shifted from the military’s chain of command and made a part of the Royal Safety Command, answerable on to the king. The motion was one in every of a number of denounced by protesters for instance of the palace taking powers that shouldn’t be allowed beneath constitutional rule.
Though it was a cold military revolt in 1932 that ended absolutely the monarchy and put in constitutional rule, the army and the palace have been carefully allied for many years. By selling and defending the royal establishment, the military lays declare to being the protector of the nation, whereas the palace can rely on the military to place down any threats to its place of privilege.
There have been 20 army coups since 1932, the newest ones in 2006 and 2014. As a result of it’s primarily based in Bangkok, the eleventh Infantry Regiment has been a key participant in coups, or opposing them, in keeping with the prevailing political local weather.
Whereas most coups are cold, the military has not hesitated to make use of pressure to crush threats to the established order.
In 2010, greater than 90 individuals had been killed and nearly 2,000 injured throughout 9 weeks of protests that noticed a part of central Bangkok occupied by protesters who had been finally cleared out by the military. Prayuth, then a senior military basic, was concerned within the crackdown.
In saying plans for Sunday’s protest, a bunch from Bangkok’s Thammasat College defined on Twitter that the regiment was focused “as a result of this unit suppressed individuals in 2010 and it was the principle pressure for the earlier coups.”
Close to the top of the rally, protesters threw purple paint within the course of the military base — some splattering on shields held by the police — to represent the 2010 bloodshed.
Related Press journalist Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul contributed to this report.
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