In a peaceful but controversial gesture, protesters yesterday turned their backs on the royal motorcade as it carried the Thai King and Queen to the opening of a new railway line. As their backs were facing the passing cars, the mostly young Thai protesters raised their hands with the 3 finger salute and sang the Thai national anthem. The symbolic gesture would have been clearly noted by the occupants of the yellow Rolls Royce.
Later, the protesters also wrapped the Democracy Monument with a banner which was covered in messages outlining their key demands.
There was an assembled 5,000-strong police and security force. The numbers were bolstered with border patrol, plainclothes and female police officers. They were un-armed but carried batons and riot gear.
The water cannons were also on standby, and had their tanks filled up in front of the government House – filled up in clear view, probably more of a threat than in intention to really use them again. Protesters complained that the blue-dyed water used at the Pathumwan Intersection in central Bangkok on October 16 had been also laced with a chemical irritant. The Bangkok Police Chief denied the claims at the time, but police later admitted to in front of a parliamentary committee that the water had contained tear gas.
The sub-groups of the larger Free Youth Movement – the Bad Students, Mob Fest and Free Women, and a smattering of other protest groups including LGBT and sex-worker organisations – had provided authorities with a full program of their planned events in advance to yesterday’s gatherings.
‘Bad Students’ have been pushing for reform in the Thai education system, changes to the dress codes and haircut rules for students, the resignation of the Education Minister and a call for greater scrutiny of sexual abuse and harassment cases at schools. They kicked off the day’s protests at the Education Ministry at midday. The gates were locked but the students partied out the front with music, dancing and a ceremonial display of a mock cremation of a portrait of the Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan at a rally in 2014 when he was a leader in the People’s Democratic Reform Committee movement, aka. ‘yellow shirts’.
The rally then marched to the Democracy Monument to join in the larger Mob Fest rally at the symbolic monument in Ratchadamnoen Avenue. They paraded a huge 35 square metre banner, carrying it over their heads and passing it down the line. It was covered in messages – the consistent messages by all protest groups – the resignation of the Thai PM, reform of the 2017 Thai Charter and reforms of the monarchy, to bring the role under the country’s constitution.
The smaller rallies all met at the monument at 2pm. To counter accusations from authorities that the rallies were losing popularity and the numbers were dropping, the organisers asked attendees to drop a 1 baht coin into a box so they could report the numbers to officials after the event. Probably not particularly accurate but more symbolic. The protesters then joined in the symbolic wrapping of the Democracy Monument with the huge banner they had been carrying earlier.
In the middle of the afternoon the King and Queen passed by on their way to the Sanam Chai MRT for the official opening of the Blue Line extension. The new station is quite near the Grand Palace. Their Majesties took a ride on the new line from the Sanam Chai to Lak Song stations, covering a distance of 11 kilometres. Thousands of yellow-clad well-wishers turned up to greet them along the route including some rent-a-crowd supporters bussed in from other provinces.
PHOTO: Thai PBS World
SOURCE: Bangkok Post
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