BANGKOK (June 24): Hundreds of pro-democracy Thai protesters took to the streets on Thursday, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and constitutional changes that would curb the influence of the country’s powerful monarchy.
The rally, which has defied a ban on public gatherings due to the pandemic, comes as Prayuth’s government faces public criticism over its handling of coronavirus outbreaks, a slow economic recovery and a vaccination policy involving a company owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
“The constitution has to come from the people,” protest leader Jatupat “Pai Daodin” Boonpattararaksa told crowds in the capital Bangkok.
Last year, the youth-led protests drew hundreds of thousands across the country, but stalled after security forces began cracking down on rallies, detaining protest leaders and afterwards. the triggering of new waves of COVID-19 infections.
Protesters had broken traditional taboos by criticizing the king, risking prosecution under a strict lese majesty law that makes insults or defamation of the king, queen, heir and regent liable to a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Most of the protest leaders have been released on bail.
In March, several dozen people were injured when police fired water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a protest.
Thursday’s rally, which also included former Prayuth supporters, marks the day Thailand declared the end of absolute monarchy on June 24, 1932.
“In 89 years since the end of absolutism, we have got nowhere,” Jatupat said.
About 2,500 police officers have been deployed to maintain order, said Bangkok Deputy Police Chief Piya Tavichai.
“A rally at this time is not appropriate as it could lead to further spread of the virus.”