BANGKOK • About 200 Thai right-wingers launched a group yesterday to counter student-led protests that have taken place almost daily since mid-July to demand the departure of the government, with some seeking reform of the monarchy.
While anti-government protesters drew over 10,000 people to the biggest demonstration in years on Sunday, counter-protests by loyalists drew at most a few dozen people.
The “Thai Pakdee” (Loyal Thai) group was launched at a Bangkok hotel by prominent right-wing politician Warong Dechgitvigrom, who said King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s monarchy was under attack. “The father of the country is being harassed… How can Thai people stand by?” he told Reuters. “Our fight must be online and offline.”
He said the group was non-violent and had not set any dates for protests or other actions.
The return of protests to Bangkok streets has sparked fears of a return to more than a decade of colour-coded clashes between establishment supporters and their populist-backing opponents before a 2014 coup in which Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha took power. Thais also recall violence in 1976, when student protests were crushed after being accused of disloyalty to the monarchy.
Anti-government protesters seek Mr Prayut’s departure and dissolution of Parliament, a new constitution and an end to the harassment of activists. They say elections that kept Mr Prayut in power last year were manipulated. He says they were fair. Thai Pakdee set three demands: No dissolution of Parliament, maximum legal action against anyone seeking to topple the monarchy, and no change to the Constitution except via proper channels.
A Thai court issued arrest warrants yesterday for six pro-democracy activists involved in recent rallies. The demonstrations have been largely tolerated so far, but police said yesterday they now had warrants to arrest half a dozen of the most prominent protesters, who will be charged with “sedition, (violation of the) computer crimes act, violating the diseases control act and using loudspeakers”.
While the use of punitive lese majeste laws has slowed, observers say the government has stepped up other legal mechanisms to target dissent – including using sedition and computer crime legislation. Two of the warrants issued yesterday are for protesters previously arrested and bailed – human rights lawyer Anon Numpa and student leader Panupong Jadnok – who now face new charges linked to an Aug 10 rally at Thammasat University.
The movement has spread to high schools, where students tie a white bow in their hair in solidarity with the pro-democracy cause. Hundreds rallied at the Education Ministry yesterday, chanting “dinosaur” and booing the minister for what critics say is a rigid, antiquated education system.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE