Thousands join biggest protest in years in Thai capital

Thousands join biggest protest in years in Thai capital

Thousands join biggest protest in years in Thai capital 5
Thai politician and leader of the opposition Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks to supporters at a rally in Bangkok on Dec 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

BANGKOK: Thousands of people joined Bangkok's biggest protest since a 2014 coup on Saturday (Dec 14), after authorities in Thailand moved to ban a party that has rallied opposition to the government of former military ruler Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The demonstration, called a day earlier by Future Forward party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 41-year-old billionaire, revived memories of the spasms of street protest that have roiled Bangkok periodically over the past two decades of turbulent politics.

Thousands join biggest protest in years in Thai capital 1
Thai politician and leader of the opposition Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks to supporters at a rally in Bangkok on Dec 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

But there was no sign of a major police presence or attempt to block the biggest demonstration since Prayuth seized power in 2014 in the name of ending street violence.

"This is just the beginning," Thanathorn told the cheering crowd that spilled across walkways and stairways close to the MBK Centre, in the heart of Bangkok's shopping and business district.

Thousands join biggest protest in years in Thai capital 6
Supporters of Thai politician and leader of the opposition Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit attend a rally in Bangkok on Dec 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

READ: Thai opposition leader asks supporters to mobilise in Bangkok on Saturday

READ: Thai opposition leader accuses government of undermining democracy

"Today is a show of strength so that in future others may join us. We're just here today as a test run. Prayuth, don't be afraid yet. The real thing is next month."

Thanathorn has emerged as the most outspoken opponent of the government headed by Prayuth, 65, since an election in March that the opposition said were manipulated to favour the army.

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Thai politician and leader of the opposition Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit arrives at a rally in Bangkok on Dec 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

Thailand's election panel has asked the Constitutional Court to dissolve the Future Forward Party, accusing it of infringing laws governing political parties by accepting multi-million dollar loans from Thanathorn.

READ: Thai court disqualifies rising opposition party leader as MP

READ: Hard right: Political divide deepens in Thailand

Last month, the Constitutional Court found Thanathorn guilty of holding shares in a media company on the date his candidacy was registered for the election, disqualifying him as a member of parliament. Thanathorn disputed the ruling.

At the protest, demonstrators chanted "Long live democracy, dictatorship get out".

Thousands join biggest protest in years in Thai capital 3
Supporters of Thai politician and leader of the opposition Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit flash a three fingered salure at a rally in Bangkok on Dec 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

Thanathorn earlier signed an agreement with six parties in an opposition alliance to push for changes to the constitution that was drawn up by the government before the election.

He also won their support for the protest.

Thousands join biggest protest in years in Thai capital 2
Supporters of Thai politician and leader of the opposition Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit hold signs at a rally in Bangkok on Dec 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

Among those parties was Pheu Thai, which won the most seats in the 500-member House of Representatives lower house but has taken a lower profile in challenging the government than Future Forward, which came third in the election.

Palang Pracharat, the pro-military party formed last year by members of the cabinet, came second. Prayuth told reporters on Friday it was inappropriate to organize a demonstration toward the end of the year.

Source: Reuters/ic

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