Campus-based Thai protest movement extends reach to streets

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Pro-democracy activities display a LGBT flag during a protest at Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Aug, 16, 2020. Protesters have stepped up pressure on the government demanding to dissolve the parliament, hold new elections, amend the constitution and end intimidation of the government's opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

BANGKOK – Anti-government protesters gathered in large numbers in Thailand's capital on Sunday for a rally that suggested their movement's strength may extend beyond the college campuses where it had blossomed.

Thousands of people assembled at Bangkok's Democracy Monument, a traditional venue for political activities, where they heard speeches, watched skits and listened to music. Hundreds of police were also present, as well as a small contingent of royalists opposed to the protesters. There was no reliable estimate of the crowd size, though it appeared to be one of the biggest demonstrations in several years.

The rally ended after almost eight hours with about two dozen students who are facing arrest joining together on stage to repeat their demands and renew their commitment to the cause of democracy. They issued a call for the government to take action by next month or face another major protest rally.

The student-led movement had already declared three core demands: holding new elections, amending the constitution and ending the intimidation of critics of the government.

At the finale of Sunday's rally, they spelled out three more points, which were also written on banners behind them: no coup d'etat, no national unity government and upholding Thailand as a democracy with the king as head of state under the constitution.

The reference to a national unity government was apparently a warning to all political parties against making a backroom deal instead of holding elections, and the reference to the king seemed to be meant as reassurance that they did not want to abolish the monarchy.

“It is clear that students from several generations are the driving force of change in Thai society,” said Narin Isariyasith, a 20-year-old student at Thammasat University.

“We have done this in the past, but Thailand still has no full democracy,” he said. "Dictatorship keeps coming back. And I think it is our duty to end this vicious cycle."