The massive gathering of pro-democracy activists nationwide has drawn national and international attention yesterday, September 19, claiming to be the biggest anti-government demonstration yet in Bangkok after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O’Cha took power originally in a 2014 coup.
The mass protest had been running for almost 24 hours and was concluded this morning in front of the Grand Palace at Sanam Luang, Bangkok, featuring a huge crowd of pro-democracy demonstrators nationwide as well as many reporters and curious onlookers.
The gathering, led by the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, began in the morning yesterday in front of the Thammasat University Thaprachan Campus and reportedly managed to enter the university in the afternoon despite the disapproval of its chancellor to occupy the university as a gathering place.
Three hours later, the mass, estimated to be 1,000 people at that moment, moved towards Sanam Luang, where a major demonstration was planned to be conducted. They were told by the police to end the rally at Sanam Luang within one hour, warning that the royal grounds were off-limits.
Pro-democracy student leaders had negotiated with relevant government officials to occupy only the south side of the grounds. The police then fenced off the area for the demonstrators to gather after the talk, resulting in the first full-scale assembly in more than 10 years in Sanam Luang.
A rally stage was set up in the evening and featured performances and encouraging speeches under the topic of their three core demands: the end of intimidation of political activists, a new constitutional draft, and the dissolution of parliament.
The major speeches were highlighted throughout the night by eighteen pro-democracy students and activists nationwide, including human-rights lawyer Arnon Nampa who has been arrested multiple times previously for alleged violations of the law.
More people were seen gathering and settling at the two-day rally at night. Many wore face masks but ignored the Prime Minister’s request to cancel the event on Thursday night, claiming that the protests risked spreading the Covid-19 coronavirus and affected the recovery of Thailand’s economy.
In the meantime, police had seized about 50,000 copies of a booklet on reforming the monarchy from a house near Thammasat University Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani as they were believed to have been prepared for the protest.
One of the pro-democracy student leaders, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, told the Associated Press that the organizers planned to stay with their same original movement plan of marching to the Government House on the following day to show off the power of mass gatherings of the people. They insisted to conduct the event in a spirited but peaceful way.
After midnight, more security officials were deployed to guard the protest and patrol around the Ratchadumnoen area while a decent amount of concrete and wire rope barriers and public buses were installed in front of the Government House and along the Ratchadumnoen road, blocking other public roads which were believed to be the marching route of the demonstrators in the morning.
However, the protest leaders had announced a surprising statement earlier in the morning today, September 20, that the march would not proceed but instead they would install a symbolic democracy plaque in the field next to the Grand Palace, marking one of the largest democratic movements in the country.
The installation is meant to replace a memorial plaque of the Siamese Revolution of 1932 at the Royal Plaza that reportedly mysteriously disappeared in 2017.
Pro-democracy student activists ended their overnight rally around 11:00 AM after one of their leaders, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, 21, has presented a list of demands to the chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, including controversial demands regarding the Thai monarchy.
Speaking after, Parit had also encouraged all anti-government rallygoers to stand for their rights to support the country’s democracy and to gather at the Government House on September 24 to pressure the members of parliament to consider drafting a new constitution.
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