Anti-government protesters in Thailand tussle with police

The government has also been dogged with corruption scandals.

Bangkok: Anti-government protesters tussled with police in the Thai capital on Friday as 15 of their movement leaders turned up at a police station to answer a summons linked to demonstrations denouncing the crackdown.

About 130 supporters joined the 15 activists as they made their way to the station, carrying banners and chanting Long live democracy and Down with dictatorship.” One protester hurled blue paint as others surged through barriers set up by police to control movement in the compound. There was no serious violence or new arrests.

The protesters are part of a student-led pro-democracy movement demanding new elections, amending the constitution and ending the intimidation of government critics.

The almost daily protests are building into the most serious threat yet to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha. He first took power in a coup in 2014 then retained it in a 2019 election widely seen as rigged to all but guarantee his victory.

With key Cabinet posts still in the hands of former generals, voices against the enduring military influence and Prayuth’s performance have grown louder.

The economy has struggled to compete with its neighbours even before the damage inflicted by measures to counter the coronavirus pandemic, which included shutting down Thailand to foreign tourists.

The government has also been dogged with corruption scandals.

When calm returned at the police station, the student leaders went in to report themselves, pausing to wave to supporters and flash three-fingered salutes, a sign of resistance borrowed from Game of Thrones.

They said they would acknowledge charges brought against them for an anti-government rally on July 18. Coming voluntarily in a group is a safety tactic to avoid the possibility of being arrested separately by force.

Just a regular interrogation I guess, said one leader, Sirin Mungchareon, as she waited to go in. Our lawyers have prepared us for this so I think everything’s going to be OK. Several other leading protesters have already reported themselves in the past few weeks and gained release on bail.

One of those ordered to report Friday, prominent activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa also known as Pai Dao Din said the protesters would step up their action.

We are serious about our demands. We’ll do anything to achieve them,” he said. “If we hold a rally for one night and we don’t get our demands, we’ll hold one for three nights. And if that doesn’t work we’ll hold one for seven nights. If our demands aren’t met, we’ll keep escalating.

Some protesters have also publicly called for wholesale reform of the monarchy: a move that has significantly raised the political temperature.

The monarchy has traditionally been seen as revered and untouchable. It is protected by harsh defamation laws. Such an open and uncompromising challenge to its position is unprecedented in modern Thailand.

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