Thai protesters rally in their thousands ahead of parliamentary debate

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Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have gathered in Thailand’s capital, seeking to keep up pressure on the government a day ahead of a special session of Parliament aimed at easing political tensions.

The rally took place on Sunday at the busy Rajprasong intersection, in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district.

Few protesters turned out in the first hour of the rally but their numbers later swelled to several thousand.

They listened to rude denunciations of the government in chants, speeches and even songs.

Thailand Protests
Pro-democracy activists display a placard with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s head attached to a cockroach (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

Their core demands also include a more democratic constitution and reforms to the monarchy.

Demonstrators say Mr Prayuth, who led a coup in 2014 as the army chief, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party.

They also say the constitution, written and enacted under military rule, is undemocratic.

Mr Prayuth’s government last week called the Parliamentary session, expected to last two days, to seek to defuse weeks of almost daily protests.

“The only way to a lasting solution for all sides that is fair for those on the streets as well as for the many millions who choose not to go on the streets is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process,” he said last week.

Mr Prayuth also lifted a state of emergency that he had imposed a week earlier that made the protest rallies illegal.

Thailand Protests
Members of the LGBT community in costumes flash a three-fingered salute during the rally (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

They noted on social media that the points of discussion submitted by the government for debate dealt not with their concerns but were thinly disguised criticisms of the protests themselves.

They concern the risk of coronavirus spreading at rallies, the alleged interference with a royal motorcade by a small crowd earlier this month, and illegal gatherings and the destruction of images of the royal family.

Protest organisers have called for a Monday afternoon march to the German Embassy in central Bangkok, far from the Parliament complex on the outskirts of the city.

The apparent rationale for the march is to bring attention to the protesters’ contention that King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time in Germany.

Protesters’ criticism of the royal institution has irked conservative Thais because it traditionally has been treated as sacrosanct.

Self-proclaimed “defenders of the monarchy” mobilised last week online and in rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants.

On Wednesday, a small royalist rally in Bangkok broke into violence when a few attendees attacked anti-government student activists.

As many as 1,000 royalists gathered peacefully outside Parliament on Sunday, vowing to stay overnight so they could make known to politicians in the morning their opposition to any changes in the status of the monarchy.

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