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Major demonstration in Thailand calls for reforms

In Thailand there have been protests almost every day since June. They are supported by students who are calling for a new constitution and more democracy. The symbol of movement is a famous gesture from a fantasy film.

Bangkok – With a large demonstration, mainly young activists, the protests against the government in Thailand, which have been going on for months, reached their preliminary climax on Saturday.

The student-led rally in Bangkok was attended by 20,000 people by early evening, despite the rain, according to police. But tens of thousands more were expected: The demo should last until Sunday. It could be the greatest in years.

The demonstrators not only demanded a constitutional change and new elections, but also a reform of the monarchy. Until recently, criticism of the royal family was considered a taboo in the Southeast Asian country. Political activists had recently been arrested several times. Most were released on bail.

Thousands of government critics had gathered at Thammasat University since noon to make their demands heard. The university had announced that it would not allow the rally on its premises – but eventually opened the gates.

Other protesters moved to the huge Sanam Luang Square in the historic center of Bangkok, not far from the old Royal Palace. Many raised their arms and made the three-finger sign from the science fiction film series “The Hunger Games”. The gesture has become a symbol of the Thai democracy movement in recent months.

The student leaders pulled up in a truck with speakers. “Today we are announcing the beginning of victory for the people and democracy,” one of the main organizers, Panupong Jadnok, told reporters. The government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had previously warned that the demonstration could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus – and that stricter restrictions would then come into force again.

The general has been in power since a military coup in 2014 and is considered an advocate of conservative Thai values. He has been head of government since the 2019 parliamentary election, which was overshadowed by allegations of manipulation. In addition to a new election, the demonstrators are calling for an end to the intimidation of citizens and political opponents.

According to Deputy Police Spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen, 10,000 police officers had been dispatched to maintain order. But it remained peaceful at first.

The protests have been going on for months. In a comment in the newspaper “Bangkok Post” it was said: “Like it or not, the wind of change is coming.” It’s also about the role of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and a controversial law protecting the monarchy. Thailand has the toughest Lèse Majesté law in the world: Anyone who insults the king or his court risks up to 15 years in prison. Meanwhile, the regent is not in the country at all. The 68-year-old has been living in a luxury hotel in Bavaria for months.