More than 10,000 protesters have gathered in Thailand’s capital Bangkok to demand the resignation of the government, changes to the constitution and an end to the harassment of opposition activists.
Demonstrators said Sunday’s protest would show broader support for change in the Southeast Asian country beyond the student groups that have organised almost-daily protests for the past month.
“We are here from all different groups, all different ages,” Kukkik, a 29-year-old postgraduate student who only wanted to give one name, told Reuters news agency, as protesters chanted: “Down with dictatorship, long live democracy.”
As well as demanding the departure of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former military government leader who won disputed elections last year, some groups have also called for curbs on the powerful monarchy – once a taboo subject.
“The students came out for a few weeks, and I want to support them,” said Thanyarak Suksarard, 50. “I support their call for political change.”
Protesters gathered at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument for one of the biggest demonstrations since Prayuth took power in a 2014 coup.
Police said approximately 600 officers had been deployed to keep order.
King loyalists hold rally
Several dozen royalists also held a demonstration, waving national flags and holding up gold-framed portraits of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other members of the royal family.
“I don’t care if they protest against the government, but they cannot touch the monarchy,” said Sumet Trakulwoonnoo, a leader of the royalist group, Coordination Center of Vocational Students for the Protection of National Institutions (CVPI).
“We are here to observe the other protest, whether they offend the monarchy or not, and will take legal action if they do,” he said, while stressing that the group was there peacefully.
Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Bangkok, said the anti-government protesters did not appear to be backing down from their demands for reform.
“Previous protests have been mainly led by students. However, here today we see a for more diverse crowd, with many older people also taking part,” he said.
“Reform of monarchy is a very sensitive topic in Thailand because of the protective laws surrounding the royal family. The government is so far just monitoring the protest movement to see where it is going. There is a large police presence at the Democracy Monument, but there is no sign that police will intervene in peaceful protests.”
Anti-government anger has been fuelled by the arrest of three of the student leaders over accusations of breaching restrictions in organising earlier protests.
The student leaders have been released on bail pending further investigation, but police say arrest warrants have been issued for a further 12 protest leaders.