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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - BANGKOK: Thousands of anti-government protesters took part in the “Run Against Dictatorship” in the Thai capital Sunday in the biggest political demonstration in years.
Organizers said 10,000 people registered to join the run, which included slogans demanding Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader behind a 2014 coup, stand down.
In a sign of rising political tensions, government supporters held their own event in a downtown park.
Last year’s general election was meant to restore full democracy, five years after the military staged the coup. But the poll rules were widely seen as favoring the pro-military party.
The government’s sluggish economic performance has added to a growing sense of discontent.
“Everything’s worse,” one participant, an office worker who gave his name only as Sakdinan, said through a face mask. “The economy is worse and people are facing difficulties including freedom of expression.”
The trigger for Sunday’s rally were moves by courts to dissolve a popular, new progressive political party.
The Future Forward Party came from nowhere to become the third largest group in parliament with 80 seats. Their anti-military agenda made many younger Thais flock to their banner in a challenge to the deeply conservative ruling elite.
The party’s rise in popularity has been met with legal cases, through the Election Commission and the Constitutional Court, for a number of alleged breaches of the law. Many now assume the party will be found guilty and dissolved, possibly even this month.
The party’s charismatic leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has emerged as the galvanizing figure behind the growing protests.
On Sunday, the billionaire businessman-turned-politician said he was delighted by the numbers who came to show their support.
“The people show great awareness of the political situation,” he said, in between posing for selfies with excited supporters.
“I believe that in order for Thailand to be able to be a democratic country again, the first step is that General Prayuth has to get out and the people here today I think we share that feeling. This is the demonstration of the anger of the people.”
Similar runs were organized in other provinces Sunday, leaving many to wonder whether Thailand is heading for another prolonged bout of street politics. Rival camps have occupied parts of Bangkok, and sometimes fought running battles, several times over the last 14 years. The unrest has triggered two coups and led to more than a hundred deaths.
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