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Mass anti-government rally kicks off in Thailand

Anti-government protesters march during a mass rally in the Thai capital, Bangkok, on October 14, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, to rally toward the government headquarters to reiterate calls for an overhaul of the administration and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

Protesters initially gathered at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, which has been a meeting place during months of protests, while giving their three-finger salute — a popular symbol of the protests — on Wednesday.

“Down with dictatorship! Long live democracy!” the marchers chanted as they moved off from the monument and marched toward the government house.

The rally is the latest in three months of anti-government protests.

Earlier in the day, a group of people gathered just meters away in support of the country’s monarchy and the government.

​Anti-government demonstrators march in the Thai capital, Bangkok, on October 14, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

A brief brawl occurred between the protesters and the royalists — all of whom were clad in the royal yellow color — before police intervened.

That has raised concerns about potential trouble in a country that experienced a decade of street violence between the supporters and opponents of the establishment before a coup d’etat in 2014.

Royalist leader Buddha Issara said the protesters could demand democracy but must not call for reform of the monarchy.

“They must not touch on the institution (of the monarchy),” he said. “We will not accept any booing or raising three or four fingers during the motorcade as well.”

Anti-government protesters and royalists clash during an anti-government mass protest, in Bangkok, Thailand, on October 14, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

A protest leader Anon Nampa, however, said earlier that they were protesting “to call for a reform of the institution to better the country.”

He also warned that “there will be provocations from the other side,” calling on protesters to avoid clashes and fighting.

“We don’t want to clash with anyone,” he said.

The protesters are calling for the resignation of the government of Prayuth, a rewriting of the constitution that helped the former coup leader hold on to power in elections last year, and an end to the harassment of dissidents.

Prayuth previously said that his government would allow protests but would not accept demands for reform of the monarchy.

But in a rare direct challenge to King Maha Vajiralongkorn, protesters chanted and held up the three-finger salute at his passing convoy on Tuesday.

Police, which deployed nearly 15,000 officers in the capital, said 21 people were arrested on Tuesday and that they would be charged with public order offenses.

Scuffle also broke between police and protesters during the day, as demonstrators had partially blocked the road near the monument and set up a barricade, which police attempted to remove.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police had been told to avoid needless confrontation.

At the biggest demonstration in years, tens of thousands of people gathered in Bangkok on September 19, calling on the prime minster to step own.

The gatherings, which was held on the anniversary of the 2006 military coup that overthrew the then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, gained momentum in demonstrations for greater democracy and reform of the country’s powerful monarchy.

The Wednesday demonstration is intended to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the October 14, 1973 student uprising against a military dictatorship during which 77 people were killed.

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