BANGKOK — Thousands of anti-government protesters are laying siege to nearly all of Bangkok’s state-owned TV stations, demanding that they refrain from broadcasting any “pro-government” coverage.
The operation is a part of the "Final Battle" called by the leader of the People's Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King As Head of State (PCAD), Suthep Thaugsuban. The group’s stated aim is to topple the government of Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisarn, who replaced former PM Yingluck Shinawatra after she was removed from office in a court ruling on Wednesday.
The verdict found Ms. Yingluck and nine Cabinet members guilty of unlawfully removing the head of the National Security Council in 2011, forcing them to step down from their caretaker positions.
Although the ruling was a victory for PCAD, which has been campaigning to oust Ms. Yingluck since last November, Mr. Suthep said his crusade against the government is not over yet.
The former Democrat Party MP declared that the fight will not be over until all Cabinet members are removed and an unelected Prime Minister is installed alongside an unelected "People's Council" that will be tasked with implementing unspecified "national reforms."
Mr. Suthep has expressed opposition to the upcoming general election on 20 July, insisting that he will not allow any elections to go forward before the "national reforms" are completed.
Over the past few weeks, Mr. Suthep has been calling on supporters across the country to gather at Lumpini Park for today’s "Final Battle." Mr. Suthep chose to launch the demonstration at 9:09 a.m., which many Thais consider to be an auspicious time because of the number nine's association with His Majesty the King, the ninth monarch in the Charki dynasty.
Shortly before 9:09 a.m., Mr. Suthep revealed his plan to have demonstrators march to the state-owned TV Channels 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11. According to Mr. Suthep, these media agencies are "mouth pieces" of the government and must be "convinced" to refrain from broadcasting any more "pro-government propaganda."
"They must not report the news on behalf of the tyrants any longer, because it distorts the truth," Mr. Suthep said, adding that he intends to "ask for cooperation" from these stations to broadcast his speech once “victory” is achieved.
Thai PBS, which is also owned by the state, was curiously left out of Mr. Suthep's plan, likely because anti-government protesters generally view the channel as sympathetic to their cause.
Mr. Suthep said that the protesters will camp outside these TV stations "overnight" to make sure they don’t deviate from PCAD-approved coverage.
Nevertheless, Mr. Suthep said the demonstrators will not forcefully enter any of the state-owned media headquarters, insisting that the siege should not be considered as an attempt to intimidate the media.
This is not the first time PCAD activists have attempted to sway media coverage in their favor. When the latest round of anti-government protests flared up in November last year, hundreds of anti-government demonstrators stormed several TV stations in Bangkok, demanding the staff only broadcast content deemed favourable by the protesters.
A number of reporters, both Thai and foreign, have been also routinely assaulted or threatened by PCAD activists in the past.
Also on the move today is a group of PCAD protesters led by Buddhist monk Buddha Issara. The group is en route this morning to the headquarters of Centre of Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO). Security forces stationed at the CAPO compound have erected additional barricades and barbed wire to prevent the protesters from entering the area.
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