Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters

Hundreds of Thais defy protest ban in anti-junta march

Demonstation marks ninth anniversary of coup ending PM Thaksin’s rule, an incident many see as source of country’s woes

Hundreds of activists defied a ban on protests and marched in Thailand’s capital on Saturday in a rare rally against the hard-line ruling military junta that took power in a coup last year.

Lines of police stood by as a crowds of people chanting "no dictatorship," some carrying anti-junta banners, marched peacefully on Bangkok's Democracy Monument, against the orders of a government widely condemned for using draconian measures to silence detractors.

The protest was to mark the ninth anniversary of a separate coup against the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. Many Thais see the incident as the trigger for an intractable conflict that is showing no signs of abating.

The demonstrators attended a forum at Bangkok's Thammasat University. The government had allowed the forum to take place, but permission was denied for a march beyond its walls.

The gathering’s size pales in comparison to the mass rallies that have paralyzed downtown Bangkok in the past few years, but protests have been rare since the generals overthrew the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, in a coup in May last year.

The military has been criticized by the West for rounding up hundreds of activists, some for demonstrations of just a few people. Many, including journalists and politicians, have been forced to attend "attitude adjustment" sessions at army bases.

"Peoples' rights have been taken away, too many have been detained," said Montra Thongsuksan, a demonstrator carrying a sign saying "return power to the people."

"I have to show solidarity, against the military. I'm scared, but I'm willing to march to show we won't give up."

Thailand has been caught in a relentless tug-of-war between supporters of the politically dominant Shinawatra family and a royalist military backed by a network of old-money conservatives whose influence is being challenged.

The military will not likely cede power any time soon; Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who staged the coup, said last week an election could take place in July 2017.

The time frame was pushed back about a year after a military-appointed panel on Sept. 6 rejected a draft constitution in a vote many analysts believe the top brass may have influenced to prolong its rule.

There was no uniformed military presence at the rally and police, who estimated 400 attended, made no obvious attempt to stop it.

"We are observing, to keep things in order," the commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Pongpan Wannapak, told Reuters.

"If things get out of hand, we'll report it to our superiors."


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