BANGKOK — Student activists have claimed responsibility for hanging two banners denouncing the 2006 coup in Bangkok today, on the 8th anniversary of the military takeover.
The first banner was hung on the pedestrian bridge in front of Chulalongkorn University in downtown Bangkok early this morning. It read: "8 Years, 19 September, the slain democracy is still dead."
Another banner was later erected from a pedestrian bridge on Viphavadee Road in northern Bangkok, right in front of the headquarters of Thai Rath newspaper. "Mr. Thai Democracy, Born 24 June 1932. Died 19 September 2006," the banner proclaimed, referring to the 1932 revolution that established constitutional democracy in Thailand.
Police officers removed the two banners shortly after they were hung.
On 19 September 2006 army chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratglin deposed then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as he was about to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, USA. The coup was the beginning of an effort to eradicate Mr. Thaksin and his influence from politics. The more recent 22 May coup, which toppled the government of Mr. Thaksin's sister, is considered a continuation of that effort.
In a statement posted on their website, the Thai Student Centre for Democracy (TSCD) took responsibility for the banner on Viphavadee Road, and said the banner in central Bangkok was hung by an affiliate student group, the Chulalongkorn Community for the People (CCP).
According to the TSCD, the pedestrian bridge on Viphavadee Road was chosen because it was the location where taxi driver Nuamthong Praiwan hanged himself to death in protest of the 2006 coup.
"Today is the 8th anniversary of the coup, the day that led to the first loss of Thai life because of the coup, Nuamthong Praiwan," the statement says. "And it is not the only life that was lost. So many other lives were sacrificed in the violence that escalated after the coup."
It continues, "The TSCD is hereby using the opportunity of the 8th anniversary of the 19 September coup to remind all Thais of the vile and undeniable consequences of military coups.”
On 30 September 2006, Mr. Nuamthong rammed a taxi painted with an anti-coup slogan into a military tank that was stationed in Bangkok's Royal Plaza. He was injured by the incident, which he said was an effort to display his condemnation of the coup. He also told the press he was willing to die in the attack.
However, Col. Akkara Thiproj, deputy spokesperson for the military junta, dismissed Mr. Nuamthong's motive and claimed that "nobody’s ideals are so great that they would sacrifice their lives for them."
Mr. Nuamthong later hanged himself in front of Thai Rath headquarters on 31 October 2006. In his farewell letter, he said he wanted to disprove Col. Akkara’s "insult.” He also wrote that the date of his suicide was chosen as a tribute to the popular uprising in October 1973.
"I'd like to tell my children and my wife to be proud of me. Do not be sad. I hope I will not see another coup in my next life," Mr. Nuamthong wrote in the letter.
There has been no immediate reaction from the authorities regarding the banners, though all forms of dissent and protest are banned by the the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Authorities have arrested dozens of activists in recent months for violating the ban, sending some of them to face trial in military courts.
Yesterday, the military blocked an academic discussion on "Demise of Foreign Dictatorships" and detained the panel's organisers.
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