Thai protests spread beyond capital

Organisers used social media platforms to mobilise crowds to avoid being thwarted by authorities

BANGKOK • Thousands of protesters — calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o- cha’s government and reform of the monarchy — filled a busy traffic intersection in Thailand’s capital yesterday, ignoring a ban on gatherings and threat of crackdowns by the police.

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

Organisers used social media platforms to mobilise crowds to avoid being thwarted by authorities as the protests, mostly peaceful so far, entered the fifth day. Authorities closed several rail stations ahead of yesterday’s 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 criticising 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 said the charter was instrumental in helping Prayuth retain power after the 2019 elections.

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 US$60 billion (RM249 billion) stimulus to battle the pandemic-triggered slump.

The escalating protest movement across Thailand may also 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. — Bloomberg