Thai junta fears social unrest

A Pro-democracy activist holds a fan during protest against junta near Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand February 10, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

A small gathering of pro-democracy activists demonstrating over the weekend has caused major concerns for the junta regarding stability, as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed Army Commander-in-chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart to closely monitor activists and other “politically motivated” groups.

Sources close to Prayut said Chalermchai, who is also secretary-general of the National Council on Peace and Order (NCPO), which staged the 2014 coup, will also have to exercise caution in dealing with activist groups, especially those involving university students, as the situation was sensitive and delicate.

Any legal action against these groups, which have staged political rallies calling for elections this year in defiance of the NCPO’s orders, needed to be carefully weighed to avoid worsening the political climate ahead of the planned general election, which will probably take place early next year, the source said.

Saturday’s peaceful protest at Democracy Monument ended with the surrender of activist leaders, who later walked free on bail.

The groups include those led by student activists Rangsiman Rome and Sirawit Serithiwat as well as activists Ekachai Hongkangwan and Anon Nampa, all of whom had already been charged with violating the junta’s ban on political gatherings of five or more people as well as violating public assembly and sedition laws.

Those charges stemmed from their assembly near Bangkok’s MBK shopping centre on Jan 27, during which they demanded that the NCPO hold the long-delayed election this year as promised.

At Saturday’s demonstration near Democracy Monument, more than 200 police officers were posted at the scene.

At Pathumwan Police Station, where the four were charged, about 200 people greeted them with a candle vigil, seeking an immediate end to prosecution for peaceful political expression. — The Nation/Asia News Network

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