The Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan O’Cha, addressed reporters this evening at Government House in Bangkok and on a televised news conference ahead of a planned major anti-government rally this weekend in the city.
He stated that although he welcomes different viewpoints and that the government would take a “gentle hand” on protesters, if any of the protesters showed they would trespass or cause damage to Government buildings or were violent the government would have to respond to the situation appropriately. A significant majority of the protesters are students, the Prime Minister added, although warned and inferred that other parties and individuals were involved and trying to escalate the situation.
The Prime Minister also warned on two sensitive subjects, the economy/tourism and Covid-19.
He stated that the actions being taken could cause significant disruption at a time many places were already suffering and further delay the country allowing in any foreign tourists and helping the economy. Thailand depends on tourism for a significant portion of their economy, especially in the “informal” sector. Pattaya depends on tourism for roughly 80 to 85 percent of its GDP and Phuket depends on tourism for over 90 percent, as an example. Due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus crisis borders remain closed to general foreign tourists.
The Prime Minister also said that the mass protests could cause another outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus which in turn could lead to another round of lock-downs and general business closures, hurting the economy and country even more. The Prime Minister stated that the government was listening to them and inviting them to discuss their issues in a formal manner through proper political process but that the current timing with the worldwide pandemic was not the right time for this level of political conflict.
Protest leaders, however, disagreed with his statements, immediately releasing their own.
Opposition leader Sompong Amornwiwat, of the Pheu Thai Party, stated that the protesters had the right to their opinions and that Thammasat University, who has officially denied the protesters the right to protest on their property, should immediately allow the protest and support freedom of expression.
Individuals with various protest groups, such as the Free Youth movement, also said that masks, hand sanitizer and other safety measures would be in place at the protest and that all precautions would be taken against any potential spread of the Covid-19 virus. They showed no signs of backing down with this weekends protest.
The Pattaya News will provide regular coverage of the historical protest this weekend. The exact number of people expected to attend vary widely depending on the source asked. Protest leaders say they expect around 100,000 while police and government officials place the number at half that or lower. It is also expected to rain heavily over the weekend in Bangkok which could dampen the protest plans for some.