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Thai protesters return to streets demanding constitutional changes

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Pro-democracy protesters walk from Democracy Monument in an anti-government march as they commemorate the anniversary of the 1932 Siamese Revolution, in Bangkok, Thailand, on June 24, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Hundreds of protesters have once again taken to the streets in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and to press their demands for constitutional changes in the country.

“The constitution must come from the people,” said a protest leader, Jatupat “Pai Daodin” Boonpattararaksa, as people gathered in the capital on Thursday, defying a ban on large public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some former Prayuth supporters also attended the protest rally, which marked the day when Thailand declared an end to absolute monarchy in 1932.

“In 89 years since the end of absolutism we have not got anywhere,” Jatupat said.

Thursday’s rally comes at a time when Prayuth’s government is facing public criticism over its handling of coronavirus outbreaks, a slow economic recovery and a vaccine policy that involves a company owned by Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Piya Tavichai, the deputy head of Bangkok police, said about 2,500 police officers had been deployed to maintain order. “A gathering at this time is not appropriate because it could lead to further spread of the virus,” he said.

Thailand has been the scene of widespread protests for reforms to the powerful monarchy since last July, with the demonstrations breaking a long-standing taboo against criticizing the king and the country’s constitution, as well as growing demands for the removal of the prime minister.

The protests initially targeted Prayuth, a former junta leader, but later called for the monarch to be more transparently accountable under the constitution and for the reversal of changes that gave the current king personal control of the royal fortune and some military units.

However, the protests stalled after security forces began cracking down on demonstrators and also after new waves of COVID-19 infections broke out in the country.

Back in March, several dozen were injured when police fired water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets to disperse a protest.

Dozens of protesters, including many of the most prominent protest leaders, have been arrested on a variety of charges in recent months.

In October, Thailand’s government imposed a state of emergency in a bid to end the months-long protests.

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

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