By Grace Moore
By Grace Moore
BANGKOK — Activists from the New Democracy Movement led hundreds of demonstrators in a march Saturday, challenging the military government’s ban on protests.
Marching from Thammasat University to the Democracy Monument at around 5pm, the crowd of approximately 200 demonstrators chanted and waved signs denouncing thailand's military regime.
“Thai people must take part in the democracy movement,” said organizer and student-activist Rangsiman Rome. “If anything is going to be the enemy of the military regime, it's the democracy we represent."
The protest occurred as Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha prepares to travel to New York, where he is to address the United Nations General Assembly about Thailand’s plans for poverty alleviation, sustainability and the possibility of holding an open election within the next two years.
The protests was led by student activists Rangsiman and Siriwit Serithiwat, along with others including some of the 14 activists arrested in June on charges of sedition and violating the junta’s ban on public assembly.
The protest marked the nine year anniversary of the 2006 coup d'etat, which ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Demonstrators also pointed to the most recent coup, which toppled a pro-Thaksin government in May last year, as a sign of the military hindering democracy in Thailand.
Following the 2014 coup, political participation has been monitored in Thailand and hundreds have been arrested for anti-junta demonstrations, said Rangsiman Rome.
The need for a protest shows that there has been little progress toward democracy in Thailand for nearly a decade, Rome said.
As the march approached Democracy Monument, protestors were met by more than 100 police officers standing shoulder to shoulder, blocking the path. Demonstrators peacefully pushed through the police line and climbed the steps of the monument. Though police monitored the protest, searching bags and asking protestors to remove large banners from the monument, no arrests were made.
Piyarat Chongthep, an activist known for his views against student hazing rituals in Thailand's universities, also spoke at the protest about his desire to see democratic leadership.
“We need to be patient, but we will not stand a dictatorship,” said Chongthep.
Prayuth announced last week that an election could take place in Thailand in July 2017.
For activists such as Serithiwat, two years is too long to wait.
“We will keep trying," said Siriwit. "More and more of us will join this fight, until they give us back the power."
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha had already departed for New York. He leaves Thursday.
Student activist Siriwit Serithiwat addresses the crowd in front of Democracy Monument, demanding a swift return to democratic rule in Thailand.
A young demonstrator holds a sign during Saturday's march from Thammasat University to Democracy Monument.
Approximately 200 police officers were posted around Democracy Monument to observe the protest. No arrests were made and protestors were allowed inside the monument. Police asked protestors to remove large banners from the monument and searched the bags of people entering the area.
Some demonstrators carried signs during the march, others waved pamphlets, many tweeted and posted updates to Facebook spreading the protest across social media.
The three-finger salute, popularized by the Hunger Games, is often used by those advocating democratic change in Thailand.
Student advocate and leader Rangsiman Rome was among 14 activists arrested 26 June, 2015, for sedition and violating the military junta’s ban on public assembly. He said Saturday's protest was "to show the power of the people in a democracy." The protest held on the ninth anniversary of the 2006 military coup d’etat shows "nothing has changed" Rome said. "Thai people must take part in the democracy movement," he said. "If anything is going to be the enemy of the military regime, it's the democracy we represent."
Student activist Siriwit Serithiwat marches at the head of hundreds of demonstrators Saturday to protest against military rule in Thailand. "We will keep trying," said Serithiwat, addressing the crowds later that evening. "More and more of us will join this fight, until they give us back the power."
Grace Moore is a Bangkok-based photographer and political science and visual journalism graduate of Western Washington University. Her work is available at www.gracelinmoore.com.
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