Thousands of Thais protest against junta – Your World – Middle East Times


Nareerat Wiriyapong
July 28, 2007

BANGKOK —  At least 5,000 Thais rallied under tight security in Bangkok Saturday to demand an end to the country’s army-backed government amid fears of a repeat of last Sunday’s violence.

More than 300 police officers and some troops stood guard as the crowd, mostly middle-aged men and women, gathered in Sanam Luang plaza in central Bangkok.

The military has become increasingly nervous about opposition movements since more than 100 anti-coup protesters were injured in clashes with police last Sunday.

The clashes, the first violence since the bloodless coup in September 2006, came as campaigning got underway for an August 19 referendum to approve an army-backed constitution.

“We are calling for democracy, which is a duty of every Thai,” said Maethaphan Phothiteeraroj, a leader of an alliance of democracy advocates and supporters of deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Police said 5,000 protesters turned out to Saturday’s demonstration, while organizers put the figure at 10,000.
Although the military said earlier it was boosting security with thousands of troops, only a handful of soldiers were seen around the plaza, a venue of daily rallies demanding the ouster of the junta.

Thailand’s junta chief, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Friday ordered the troop deployment to ensure security, while police arrested nine protest leaders over the weekend clashes. One was released late Friday on bail.

Authorities have repeatedly warned that the government could impose a state of emergency in Bangkok if more violence breaks out at anti-coup protests.

Police have allowed protesters to rally only inside Sanam Luang and warned people would be arrested if they marched outside the plaza.
But protest organizers said they would continue to stage the rallies to voice opposition to military rule.

“We will not stop protesting until we get our democracy back,” said Surachai Sae-dan, another protest leader.
Some protesters wore T-shirts saying “No Vote” as the kingdom heads toward the charter referendum next month.
“We are urging people to vote against this constitution, which was drafted in a non-democratic manner,” said Maethaphan.

The military says the new charter will clear the way for elections by the end of the year, but opponents fear it will provide ways for the army to maintain an influence over government through powerful appointees.

Campaigning is tilted heavily in the government’s favor, with half the country under martial law since the coup and a new law threatening prison for anyone convicted of obstructing the referendum.

Thousands of Thais protest against junta – Your World – Middle East Times



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