Thai democracy movement vows fresh protests after PM snub

They regard his hold on power — renewed after last year’s widely disputed elections — as illegitimate

BANGKOK • Prominent leaders of Thailand’s pro-democracy movement vowed to return to the streets to protest against Prime Minister (PM) Prayuth Chan-o-cha after their deadline for him to resign was ignored.

The former military chief who staged the 2014 coup is facing pressure from a student-led movement that has organised massive demonstrations for months calling for his resignation.

They regard his hold on power — renewed after last year’s widely disputed elections — as illegitimate and last Wednesday gave him three days to step down.

As the deadline for Prayuth to resign by 10pm on Saturday came and went, activist Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa said protesters turned out in force yesterday at a major Bangkok intersection.

“We hear the answer from the PM to our request,” Pai told a crowd outside Bangkok’s Remand Prison, where protesters had gathered to call for the release of fellow activists.

“Today as citizens, we will protest against Prayuth at Ratchaprasong at 4pm (0900 GMT).”

Prayuth remained resolute on Saturday while attending a prayer ceremony for the country at a historic Bangkok temple, saying “all problems can be solved” through compromise.

“The government has real intentions to solve problems as long as it’s under the line of laws,” he told reporters, adding that he “won’t quit”.

The movement is largely leaderless though the different groups are united when it comes to their demands for an overhaul to Prayuth’s government.

Some are also issuing controversial calls for reform to the kingdom’s unassailable monarchy, questioning the role of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in Thailand — once a taboo act due to draconian royal defamation laws.

Another group called the People’s Movement announced a march to the German Embassy — in apparent defiance of the king, who spends long periods of time in Germany.

The monarch has been back in Thailand for the past week and a half to commemorate a Buddhist holiday and the death of his late father Bhumibol Adulyadej.

He has not commented on the demonstrations, despite tension in Bangkok as protesters grow bolder in their challenge to the royal institution. But the king has made rare public visits with his supporters waiting outside the palace — a charm offensive for an army of local and international media.

Last Friday, he broke royal protocol to praise a man who had held up a portrait of the king’s parents at a pro-democracy rally. “Very brave. So good. Thank you,” the king told the man, according to footage posted on Facebook.

Also top-trending yesterday morning was the hashtag “25 October mob” — a sign that protesters were preparing to gather for the rally.

Prayuth had initially imposed emergency measures banning gatherings of more than four, but lifted them a week later when they failed to stop tens of thousands showing up to guerrilla demonstrations across the capital.

Scores of activists and protesters have been arrested, with several facing serious charges such as sedition.

Over the weekend, prominent leaders Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul — three figures who have consistently called for royal reform — were denied bail. — AFP