Thais hold huge protest  demanding reforms

Thais hold huge protest demanding reforms

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Thousands of people have protested in the Thai capital Bangkok calling for reform of the political system, including the role of the monarchy.

It was one of the biggest protests in years with at least 15,000 people, police said. “Down with feudalism, long live the people,” chanted some.

There were no reports of violence.

Since July, rallies have called for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha who took power in a 2014 coup and won disputed elections last year.

Saturday’s student-led demonstration moved from the campus of Thammasat University to a park next to a grand palace used for royal ceremonies.

Demonstrators say they plan to stay overnight and march to the offices of the prime minister on Sunday morning.

“I hope the people in power will see the importance of the people,” student leader Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, told the crowd, according to Reuters news agency. “We’re fighting to put the monarchy in the right place, not to abolish it.”

The calls for royal reform are particularly sensitive in Thailand, with criticism of the monarchy punishable by long prison sentences.

Organisers gave a much higher estimate for Saturday’s turnout, saying 50,000 people had attended. A protest in August drew around 10,000 protesters.

Thailand has a long history of political unrest and protest, but a new wave began in February after a court ordered a fledgling pro-democracy opposition party to dissolve.

The Future Forward Party (FFP) had proved particularly popular with young, first-time voters and garnered the third-largest share of parliamentary seats in the March 2019 election, which was won by the incumbent military leadership.

Protests were re-energised in June when prominent pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit went missing in Cambodia, where he had been in exile since the 2014 military coup.

His whereabouts remain unknown and protesters accuse the Thai state of orchestrating his kidnapping – something the police and government have denied. Since July there have been regular student-led street protests.

Demonstrators have demanded that the government headed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief who seized power in the coup, be dissolved; that the constitution be rewritten; that the authorities stop harassing critics.__BBC

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