Academics Defy Military Orders, Protest Coup

BANGKOK — A group of university lecturers has already staged a rally at Thammasat University to protest today’s military coup d’état and declaration of martial law.

Army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha announced on live television at 4.30 p.m. that the military had seized power from the caretaker government and formed the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOCM) as the new administration. 

In a follow-up announcement, the NPOCM re-affirmed that the country was still under nationwide martial law.

Thirty minutes later, political science and law academics gathered on Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus to stage a demonstration titled, "Sick and tired: run from martial law to search for democracy."

Among the protesters were prominent academics Puangthong Pawakapan, Somsak Jiamteerasakul, Prajak Kongkirati, and Viengrat Netipho.

"Bring back our voice!" one placard read. Others said, "Go home, brave soldiers. The people are going to vote," and "Soldiers are the fence of a house, don't fool us, you are not the house owners."

Dozens of other activists joined the professors in Laan Bho, the iconic courtyard inside the university where Thammasat students staged their rally against the military government in 1973.

Some activists marched to the nearby statue of Pridi Banomyong, the founder of Thammasat University who co-led the 1932 revolution that established Thailand as a constitutional democracy. The activists blindfolded the statue of Pridi in a symbolic protest.

Political science professor Puangthong told reporters she is deeply disappointed by the military's decision to launch a coup.

"The coups in the past never end with democracy or peace," Ms. Puangthong said, citing examples of the 1991 and 2006 coups that led to further unrest.

"Gen. Prayuth should see that all generals who launch coups never see a beautiful fate," Ms. Puangthong said.

Ms. Puangthong also urged the military to return the power to the people and organise an election as soon as possible. She added that she and her group will continue to express their opinions about the coup despite the military's attempts to censor dissent. 

On Tuesday, the military forbade academics from giving any comments to media that might "incite unrest."  Today, the military issued a ban on any public gatherings of more than five people. 

"The only thing the military has are weapons, but their weapons will never change the belief, faith, and opinions of the people," Ms. Puangthong said. "Their power will never be permanent. They can only scare off people temporarily."

Political history lecturer Mr. Prajak, who also attended the rally, told reporters that "coups never bring solution to problems like corruption, inequality, or conflict in the country.”

"In 2006, we already saw that the [military] government could not do anything to solve the problems," Mr. Prajak said.

He warned that today's coup, like the 2006 putsch, would only deepen division in the society. 

"They have destroyed all attempts to solve the problem in peaceful manner," Mr. Prajak said. 

Today's military takeover marks the 12th coup état in Thailand since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

 

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