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Bangkok: tens of thousands march for democracy challenging government bans

Yesterday, the authorities imposed an emergency decree that prohibits gatherings of more than four people. New protests scheduled for today. The government is in trouble on several fronts and hesitates to launch a harsh crackdown.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Over 10 thousand pro-democracy demonstrators yesterday challenged government ban and demonstrated peacefully in the centre of the capital. A few hours earlier the authorities had imposed an emergency decree prohibiting public meetings with more than four people.

The demonstrators, mostly university and high school students, took to the streets to protest the restrictive measure. They are also demanding the release of more than 20 people – including three Democratic leaders – arrested soon after the decree was published.

To block protests against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and the king, the executive has instituted a curfew from 6.00 pm (local time). Demonstrators responded by announcing a new rally in the afternoon.

The government’s tightening came after a group of demonstrators attempted to block a royal car parade accompanying Queen Suthida on October 15. The provision also outlaws the publication of news that could cause “fear” or threaten national security. The government justified the ban with the need to maintain “peace and order” in the country. According to the authorities, the demonstrations are damaging the economy and risk promoting the spread of Covid-19.

Since July, also due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, public pressure has increased against Prayuth, the former commander-in-chief of the army, who came to power in 2014 with a coup. He has led a civilian executive since last year, but his critics accuse him of rigging the elections that decreed the formal end of the military junta.

The demonstrators, mostly young students, demand the resignation of the government, the end of the dictatorship, a democratic reform of the Constitution, the review of the political role of the king and his financial endowment. They also want the crime of “lese majesty” to be cancelled: the sovereign is a sacred figure in Thailand, and offenses against him are punished with up to 15 years in prison.

The royal palace has not yet expressed itself on the new wave of protests; the police have announced that they are ready to arrest all demonstrators. According to several analysts, the government is in trouble: the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has weakened Prayuth’s position, preventing him from launching a harsh repression, which would be very unpopular.

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