Thai democracy movement gathers for protest after PM snub
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Bangkok (AFP) –
Hundreds gathered Sunday at a major Bangkok intersection to renew calls for Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha to resign, after he ignored a deadline to step down set by protesters who have issued unprecedented challenges to the regime.
The former military chief who staged the 2014 coup is facing pressure from a student-led pro-democracy 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 on Wednesday gave him three days to step down.
But the deadline came and went on Saturday night, spurring hundreds to gather Sunday at downtown Bangkok's Ratchaprasong intersection, surrounded by gleaming shopping malls and watched on by traffic police.
"Today is open for everyone who wants to talk about their dissatisfaction about Prayut's government," said organiser Jatupat "Pai" Boonpattararaksa, who had called for the protest the night before.
He reaffirmed the movement's core three demands -- for Prayut to step down, a rewrite to the 2017 military-scripted constitution, and for authorities to "stop harassing" political opponents.
"If Prayut insists not to quit, we will keep insisting on coming out to oust him," Pai said.
The gathering saw a diverse crowd -- drag queens in full regalia, young people in hard hats ready for a police crackdown and older protesters worried about Thailand's freefalling economy.
"I want Prayut to think as a citizen rather than as a prime minister," said 43-year-old Nuch. "The economy is really bad -- since he cannot solve the problem, he should resign and let someone else do it."
Prayut remained resolute Saturday while attending a prayer ceremony for the country at a historic Bangkok temple, saying "all problems can be solved" through compromise.
He also told reporters 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 Prayut'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 on Monday afternoon -- in apparent defiance of the king, who spends long periods of time in Germany.
- Charm offensive -
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.
On Friday, he broke with 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.
Following the interaction, that quote trended as a hashtag on Twitter in Thailand.
Also top-trending Sunday morning was the hashtag "25 October mob".
Prayut 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.
Thais abroad have also held demonstrations in solidarity with the student movement, with some gathering in Tokyo Sunday waving the three-finger salute while protesters in Seoul held signs that said "Restore power to the people".
© 2020 AFP