BANGKOK: Anti-government protesters held a major demonstration at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on Wednesday (Oct 14) to call for an end to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration, charter amendment and reform of the monarchy.
They started gathering at about 8am after a sudden change of plan in the early hours on Wednesday, moving forward the protest originally planned for 2pm.
“Sources reported that there are groups trying to take control of the area and perimeter; before the former rendezvous time (2pm) to obstruct the People's Party's demonstration,” said a statement released by the demonstrators.
“For that reason, the People's Party will have to move up the schedule from 2pm to 8am on Oct 14, because we have to take control of the area of the Democracy Monument first and foremost.”
Protesters successfully occupied the area on Wednesday morning. A human chain was formed to guard their mobile stage as groups of pro-government supporters and royalists in yellow shirts took to the streets in the same area.
Yellow is associated with the monarchy in Thailand. A number of security officers were also among the yellow-shirts.
Led by youths, some say the rally on Wednesday could be an important moment for Thai politics after a coup d’état in 2014 by Prayut. The then army chief and current prime minister would control Thailand for five years, before an election in 2019 installed his political party to government.
The demonstration is driven by a coalition of youth groups from across the country, known collectively as the People’s Party. The name is a symbolic reference to a group of revolutionaries behind Thailand’s transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy in 1932.
Since morning, truckloads of yellow-clad supporters had been seen entering Ratchadamnoen Avenue, where the anti-government protesters gathered. Several of them belong to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
A royal motorcade was expected to pass through the road and a number of people in yellow were present to welcome the royal family.
According to the Royal Thai Police, about 15,000 police officers were deployed on Wednesday.
At about 1.30pm, protesters began removing pot plants on the steps of the Democracy Monument, a symbolic move to take back the public space representing democracy in Thailand. The monument was erected in commemoration of the revolution in 1932.
The pot plants had been placed there by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration on Jul 18 ahead of a rally against the government.
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Demonstrators then started marching to the Government House, located about 2.5km away. The march began at about 2.30pm.
"Have faith in democracy. We cannot fall back," protest leader Parit "Penguin" Chirawat told protesters on the march.
Protesters managed to pass through blockades and security officers at the Thewa Kam intersection before proceeding to Nakhon Sawan Road.
There, they were blocked once again by police officers and police buses. Protest leaders managed to negotiate with the authorities to let them pass but police said they would do so 50m at a time.
The protesters reached the Government House at around 6pm, filling Phitsanulok Road. Tens of thousands of people gathered in the area and were expected to remain there overnight.
Most royalists dispersed quickly after the motorcade carrying the king had passed, but some protesters later slowed a convoy carrying Queen Suthida, gave the three-fingered salute and chanted "get out" at police protecting the vehicle.
The demonstration by the People’s Party came after a parliamentary session on Sep 24, when lawmakers decided not to vote on six proposals for charter amendment submitted by the ruling coalition and opposition parties. Instead, a committee was formed to study the proposals for a month first.
The move was said to be the government’s attempt to delay changes to the constitution despite months of pressure from the public.