Thailand: Biggest protest in years targets government and monarchy

Tens of thousands of people have massed close to Thailand's royal palace demanding the resignation of the prim

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Tens of thousands of people have massed close to Thailand's royal palace demanding the resignation of the prime minister. The protests took place on the anniversary of a 2006 coup that ousted ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

A major rally calling for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha to step down gathered outside the royal palace in Bangkok on Saturday, in what organizers claimed was the biggest demonstration to date by the burgeoning pro-democracy movement.

"We are calling for Prayut Chan-O-Cha... to resign immediately," prominent activist and protest organizer Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, told the AFP news agency.

Organizers predicted as many as 50,000 people will march over two days in an area of the capital historically associated with political protests.

Police said at least 18,000 people took part on Saturday, while Reuters said the turnout was at least 30,000.

Protesters said they planned to stay overnight and march to Government House on Sunday morning.

According to DW correspondent Florian Nusch, police had "actually remained quite lenient" during the day, in the face of the sheer size of the crowd. "That might have realized that if they were to crack down on those protesters, they might have an even bigger problem at hand," he said.

At the same time, the police had warned the demonstrators to stay peaceful. 

Protests have been building in the country since mid-July, with youth-led groups demanding a new constitution and elections, as well as the removal of Prayut, a former army chief who led a coup in 2014.

An estimated 10,000 protesters turned out for the last major rally on August 16.

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Monarchy reforms demanded

Some organizers are also demanding reforms to Thailand's ultra-wealthy and powerful monarchy — a once-taboo topic in the country due to its tough royal defamation laws.

The organizers are a group of students of Bangkok's Thammasat University that has been among the most vocal about the royal family's role in Thailand, and who on Saturday asserted that they hope "to adapt it to society".

"I believe the institution can be modernized," said a rallygoer in his mid-20s who declined to be named. 

Another protester wore a fake crown and a shirt that said "please realize this country belongs to the people."

Thailand has seen a regular series of putsches by the arch-royalist military since the end of royal absolutism in 1932.

The king was not in Thailand Saturday and has spent much of his time in Europe since taking the throne from his late father in 2016.

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Coup anniversary

Saturday also marked the anniversary of the coup against the populist then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. Among the protesters were many of his red shirt followers, veterans of clashes a decade ago with pro-establishment yellow shirts.

bk/mm (AFP, Reuters, AP)
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