Protesters in Thailand have broken through the gates of a university in Bangkok in what is expected to be the country’s biggest protest in years.
- Student-led protests have been growing since mid-July
- Protesters are demanding the Prime Minister resign and for the monarchy to be reformed
- The mass rally marks the anniversary of the coup against Thaksin Shinawatra
Around 20,000 protesters had gathered by Saturday night (local time) to call for the military-backed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to be removed from office and for reforms to the monarchy.
The student-led demonstration was expected to run all night and into Sunday morning.
The protesters want Parliament dissolved, an election to be held and the constitution to be changed.
One demonstrator, who asked to be known by his nickname Kot, said he wanted General Chan-ocha to resign and for the constitution to be amended.
The 19-year-old student at a University in Chonburi said the dictatorship had dominated for the past six years.
“Today we gather here to show force and standing together to chase the dictatorship away,” he said.
“Why am I holding empty tray? It is because we don’t have democracy.”
Protester Praphan Muadchiangkha said “the economic situation is getting worse”.
“The reason I came here today [is] because I think it is time for everyone to come out to push [the] country forward and to fight with dictatorship,” he said.
Demands for monarchy to be reformed despite taboo
Some were also calling for reform in the monarchy and for Thailand’s lese majeste laws, which make it a crime to insult or defame the king, to be scrapped.
Criticising the monarchy could see them charged under strict defamation laws and sent to jail for up to 15 years if found guilty.
The Government said it would allow the demonstration as a form of free speech, but maintained challenges to the monarchy would not be acceptable.
Some 10,000 police officers were at the scene on standby.
The protesters are also seeking reduce the king’s constitutional powers, his control over the palace fortune and units of the army.
Some chanted: “Down with feudalism, long live the people.”
King Maha Vajiralongkorn was not in Thailand on Saturday night and has spent much of his time in Europe since taking the throne from his late father in 2016, the widely-revered late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Peaceful protests have been building since mid-July, with the biggest to date drawing a crowd of 10,000 people.
Bangkok’s Thammasat University had refused the protest organisers’ request to hold the rally on its campus grounds, but they pushed through the locked gates anyway.
Saturday’s protests moved from the campus of the university, a traditional hotbed of opposition to the military and royalist establishment, and on to Sanam Luang — translated as Royal Field — outside the Grand Palace.
September 19 is 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.