BANGKOK (AFP) — Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters massed close to Thailand’s royal palace on Saturday, in a huge rally calling for PM Prayut Chan-O-Cha to step down and demanding reforms to the monarchy.
The kingdom has seen near-daily gatherings of youth-led groups since mid-July calling for the resignation of Prayut, the former army chief behind the 2014 coup, and a complete overhaul of his administration.
Some are also demanding reforms to Thailand’s ultra-wealthy and powerful monarchy — a once-taboo topic in the country due to its tough royal defamation laws.
The burgeoning movement, partly inspired by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, remains largely leaderless.
But the weekend’s demonstration is organised by students of Bangkok’s Thammasat University — a group that has been among the most vocal about the royal family’s role in Thailand.
History teacher Patipat, 29, said the government wouldn’t be able to ignore the event.
“Today is one of the turning points in Thai history,” he told AFP.
Bangkok’s Metropolitan Police Bureau said more than 15,000 protesters had gathered around the university’s downtown campus and the surrounding area by nightfall, though protest organisers claim a much higher turnout.
AFP reporters on the ground estimated a crowd size closer to 30,000.
This would make it one of the largest gatherings the kingdom has seen since the 2014 coup.
Flooding into the historic Sanam Luang field in front of the Royal Palace, LGBT activists unfurled rainbow flags as protesters marched in waving a three-fingered salute, a symbol for democracy taken from the Hunger Games film trilogy.
“We are calling for Prayut Chan-O-Cha… to resign immediately,” prominent activist and protest organiser Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, told AFP.
Student leaders have also vowed to push for reform to the monarchy, asserting that they hope “to adapt it to society”.
“I believe the institution can be modernised,” said a rallygoer in his mid-20s, declining to be named.
Another protester wore a fake crown and a shirt that said “please realise this country belongs to the people”.
Demonstrators have said they will spend the night at Sanam Luang before marching to Government House on Sunday morning — a move authorities have warned against.
Some 10,000 uniformed and plainclothes police patrolled the area as the crowd grew. Tents were set up by protesters selling T-shirts, flags and beer.