Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in the shadow of bangkoks grand palace on saturday, staging one of the biggest rallies yet in thailands growing student-led protest movement near the symbolic heart of the kingdoms powerful monarchy.
Protesters gathered at thammasat university, an institution with a history of student activism, before moving to nearby sanam luang, opposite the palace. they ignored calls by police to disperse.
Student leaders who organised the take power back to the people protest said they planned to stay in the area overnight. demonstrators told reporters they were planning a surprise early on sunday morning, without giving details.
Sanam luang, which translates roughly as royal ground, was formerly one of bangkoks biggest public squares, but in recent years been reserved for royal events such as the 2017 cremation of the late king bhumibol adulyadej.
King maha vajiralongkorn lives in germany and is not in the thai capital.
Students said ahead of the demonstration that they aimed to seize back the space.
The police said that about 20,000 attended the protest, but organisers said that more than 50,000 were there.
In addition to the thousands of students attending, older red shirt supporters of exiled prime minister thaksin shinawatra joined the protest, including many from outside the capital. september 19 is the anniversary of the 2006 military coup that overthrew the populist former leader.
Thailands student activists are calling for the resignation of the government of prime minister prayuth chan-ocha, a rewriting of the constitution that helped the former coup leader to hold on to power in last years election, and a halt to the harassment of dissidents.
On august 10 students at thammasats rangsit campus outside bangkok went beyond this by reading out a 10-point call for reform of thailands powerful monarchy.
History will remember today, said sakorn, a 38-year-old man at saturdays protest who declined to give his surname, and had written the words prayuth get out on his midriff. the students have to come out against what is wrong, and to stand up for their future and for the next generations to come.
The prayuth government has tolerated the growing wave of protests that began in july, although it has charged more than a dozen people with sedition and other crimes, and warned students not to touch the issue of the monarchy. last month mr prayuth said thailand risked becoming engulfed in flames if the protests were to go too far.
Before saturdays rally, police seized thousands of booklets listing the 10 demands for reforming the monarchy that were due to be distributed to protesters, according to lawyers for human rights, a civil-rights group.
Mr prayuth on thursday called on students to hold off on protests until the covid-19 pandemic was over. after sealing its borders and imposing a lockdown, thailand appears to have contained infections, reporting 3,497 cases and 58 deaths to date.
Only two local transmissions have been reported in the past three months, but the country has since march been under an emergency decree to contain the disease.
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