Thailand protests: Protesters declare ‘victory’ in Bangkok rallies calling for monarchy reform
Thousands gathered in the nation’s capital for this weekend’s rallies, which began on Saturday and were part of a protest movement that has been gaining momentum since July.
Student leader and activist Panasaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul, 21, took to a public stage late Saturday to directly address Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn — an act that, under strict national laws, could be punishable by 15 years in jail if her comments are considered defamatory to the monarchy.
Panasaya listed to the crowd the ten demands of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a student union group of which she is the spokesperson. They include revoking laws against defaming the monarchy, a new constitution, abolishing royal offices, ousting the military junta and disbanding the king’s royal guards.
In an interview with CNN, Panasaya said: “I mean no harm to the monarchy.” But she also shared a message to the king: “You should reform it so that the monarchy can continue to exist in Thailand … If you pay attention to what I am saying, I’d like you to consider our demands.”
On Sunday, with thousands still out, a group from the rally announced it intended to deliver the ten demands to the Privy Council, the king’s advisers.
However, Panasaya and other marchers were stopped by police as they attempted to approach the council. In an exchange broadcast live on television, Panasaya instead agreed to hand the demands to police, and declared a victory for protesters.
Speaking to the crowds before they dispersed, protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak said: “Our victory is that we handed our letter directly to the king, so we can show that everyone is equal. Everyone has the same blood color — it’s red. Thank you everyone for celebrating our victory. We told people to raise their hand.”
Parit said the movement would continue to pursue its goals peacefully.
“We achieved all of this by non-violent methods and we will uphold the principle of non-violence in our movement,” Parit said Sunday.
On Sunday protesters also installed a “people’s plaque” near the Thai Royal Palace, commemorating their movement as the “vanguard of democracy.”
“Here, the people declare that this place belongs to the people, not the King,” the plaque reads. Protest leaders said it was a replacement for another plaque that had marked the end of monarchic rule in 1932, but went missing in 2017.
Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Sunday “expressed his gratitude to officers and all the people who have jointly cooperated to end the situation peacefully,” according to a statement from his official spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri.
“Both the protesters and officers have avoided confrontation and instigation which could lead to an unnecessarily tense situation,” the statement read.
“The government has the intention to allow people to lawfully express their rights under the constitution.”
Asked about the submission of a reform letter to the king, Burapachaisri said: “I am aware of their demands about monarchy reform from listening to their speeches on the stage but I don’t have them in detail yet. I would need time to gather info before we have further comments on this.”
Weekend protests escalate
Ahead of this weekend, official figures had tried to dissuade protesters from turning out — and dispel fears that the rallies could turn violent.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister warned protesters they could cause economic destruction if coronavirus spreads at gatherings, though he didn’t name protest groups individually or specifically address the planned weekend rallies.
And in a briefing on Saturday morning, the commander of the Thai Royal Police told people not to believe what he called rumors that police will “suppress the mobs,” and urged officers not to react if “provoked.”
Later that afternoon, protest leaders pushed open the gates of Thammasat University, a heart of student activism in Thailand. They gathered on the campus and at Sanam Luang, a public square near the king’s official residence at the Grand Palace.
Protesters and their supporters are calling for a range of institutional changes; for instance, Pita Limjaroenrat of the opposition Move Forward Party said his group will propose a council meeting to “re-write the constitution peacefully.”
The best solution, Limjaroenrat says, is to elect a “group of persons” to re-write it. He told the media that if change does not occur in the country “the people will keep coming out on the street.”
That is a radical idea in Thailand, where the powerful royal institution is regarded by many with deity-like reverence — but dissatisfaction, especially among Thai youth, has been simmering for years.
Years of growing resistance
Thailand has endured years of political upheaval. A military coup in 2014 was followed by failed promises to restore democracy, and what activists say is a repression of civil rights and freedoms.
It’s within this atmosphere that their ire is now being directed toward King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who assumed the throne in 2016 and was crowned in May 2019.
Vajiralongkorn is believed to spend much of his time overseas and has been largely absent from public life in Thailand as the country grappled with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Crown Property Act, passed in 1936, reorganized the Thai royal family’s assets into separate categorizes for royal assets. The repeal of the act meant that the Crown’s and the King’s personal holdings were placed into a single category to be administered by King Vajiralongkorn.
Although the absolute monarchy was abolished in Thailand in 1932, the monarch still wields significant political influence. Thais are still expected to follow a long tradition of worshiping the royal institution.
Change appears to taking root, however.
CNN cannot independently verify the videos.
Traditionally, Thai citizens are supposed to stand still to pay respects to the anthem — played twice daily in public spaces — and the rule is even stricter in schools.
“The protests in Thailand are historic because this is the first time in Thailand’s history that urban demonstrators have demanded such reforms,” Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special adviser at Naresuan University’s Center of ASEAN Community Studies, told CNN last month.
CNN’s Jaide Garcia and Emma Reynolds contributed to this report.
Pelosi to run for speaker again if Democrats keep the House
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday she’ll seek another term as speaker should Democrats keep the House majority in the Nov. 3 elections.
Asked directly by host Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether she will run again, Pelosi responded: “Yes, I am. But let me also say that we have to win the Senate.”
The California Democrat, who is 80, first served as speaker from 2007 to 2011 — becoming the first woman in history to hold the post — and was reelected to it in January 2019.
Andy Burnham Has Blamed Boris Johnson For The Failure To Reach A Deal For Greater Manchester Over A Tier 3 Lockdown
5 min read
Andy Burnham has blamed Boris Johnson for the collapse in talks over a cash settlement for Greater Manchester as it faces the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.
And the region’s mayor has set up a Commons clash over Tier 3 lockdowns by saying he looks to “Parliament to intervene and make a judgement on a fair financial framework”. Labour later said it would force a vote over the restrictions.
In a press conference shortly after it was revealed the government will impose the tightest measures on Greater Manchester without local approval, he said the government had not offered enough to protect people through the “punishing” winter ahead.
Negotiations continued beyond the government’s self-imposed 12pm deadline today, but finally broke down without an agreement to provide extra financial support for the region.
A statement from communities secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed the outcome, with explicit criticism of the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.
“I’m disappointed that despite recognising the gravity of the situation, the mayor has been unwilling to take the action that is required to get the spread of the virus under control in Greater Manchester and reach an agreement with the government,” Mr Jenrick said.
“I have therefore advised the Prime Minister that these discussions have concluded without an agreement.”
But Mr Burnham hit back over the funding for businesses and employees affected by a Tier 3 lockdown, which will see all pubs that cannot operate as a restaurant shut for a minimum of 28 days, along with betting shops, casinos, bingo halls, adult gaming centres and soft play areas.
The sense of failure is overwhelming. I shall avoid political comment until I have heard @MattHancock’s statement in @HouseofCommons this evening. Leadership is required from everybody. Trust is placed in us all and that is the privilege of public office.
— William Wragg MP (@William_Wragg) October 20, 2020
He said local leaders had calculated they needed £90million in extra support, around £15million a month until the end of the financial year.
Having dropped that to £75million during the negotiations in the past week, Mr Burnham told reporters they were prepared to reduce it again to £65million – a figure he described as the “bare minimum to prevent a winter of real hardship” – but Number 10 would not go above £60million.
“That is what we believe we needed to prevent poverty, to prevent hardship, to prevent homelessness,” he said.
“Those were the figures that we had – not what we wanted – but what we needed to prevent all of those things from happening.
“But the Government refused to accept this and at 2pm today they walked away from negotiations.
“In summary, at no point today were we offered enough to protect the poorest people in our communities through the punishing reality of the winter to come.
“Even now I am still willing to do a deal but it cannot be on the terms that the Government offered today.”
The government has said it had sought to work with the mayor, council leaders and MPs in the region to find a mutually agreeable solution, but has also repeatedly said the prime minister has the power to unilaterally move the area from “high” to the “very high” category.
It has expressed fears about compliance if the restrictions were not endorsed by the local authorities, but appears willing to act now after projections released by Number 10 yesterday suggested Greater Manchester’s intensive care capacity would be filled within days.
It is now unclear what level of financial help the Treasury will hand over to enter Tier 3, as any lump sum was set to be on top of a £22million payment to pay for additional test and trace services and enhanced enforcement.
This equates to around £8 per person, which is proportionate to the per capita deals struck by Merseyside and Lancashire when they went into the “very high” category last week.
Mr Burnham was highly critical of the process, saying: “I don’t believe we can proceed as a country on this basis through the pandemic, by grinding communities down through punishing financial negotiations.
“We are asking a lot of the public at this difficult time and we need to carry them with us, not crush their spirits.
“We need national unity, and that is why I now look to Parliament to intervene and make a judgement on a fair financial framework for tier three lockdowns, because make no mistake, this was not just about Greater Manchester, all parts of the country may find themselves in a tier three lockdown at some point this winter.
“And what we need to be able to say to people living in those areas, is that they have a guarantee that they can apply for, should they need it, 80% of their wages for their income.
“That is the least that we owe to those people. The money that businesses will be able to rely on to survive. We should be setting out fair financial frameworks.”
In response to the news Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The collapse of these talks is a sign of Government failure.
“The Conservatives have been treating local communities, particularly in the Midlands, North West and North East, and their leaders with contempt.
“Labour recognise the need for stricter public health restrictions. However, that must be accompanied by extra financial support.
“Labour will continue to support Andy Burnham in the fight for people’s jobs, lives and livelihoods.”
And William Wragg, the Conservative MP for Hazel Grove in south Manchester, tweeted: The sense of failure is overwhelming.
“I shall avoid political comment until I have heard Matt Hancock’s statement in the House of Commons this evening.
“Leadership is required from everybody. Trust is placed in us all and that is the privilege of public office.”
Dr Fauci: Covid vaccine result could come by end of 2020
Dr Anthony Fauci says a Covid-19 vaccine could be available in the United States before the end of the year if proved to be “safe and effective”.
The US government scientist told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the limited first doses would go to people according to a set prioritisation – and that it would take “several months into 2021” before it was more widely available.
He added that the vaccine wouldn’t replace the need for public health measures to be in place to help protect people from the virus for a considerable time.
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