Protesters march to mark 2nd anniversary of Thailand coup

AP News
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Posted: May 22, 2016 10:39 AM
Protesters march to mark 2nd anniversary of Thailand coup

BANGKOK (AP) — More than 200 people marched in Thailand's capital on Sunday to protest military rule on the second anniversary of the coup that toppled the country's elected government.

The march in Bangkok was one of the biggest anti-junta protests since the takeover and was treated with unusual tolerance by the authorities, who usually take a heavy-handed approach to dissent, both on the streets and online.

The protest was spearheaded by a small group of students who have been involved in a string of spirited smaller demonstrations that represent the most significant public opposition to military rule.

"I think they should give the people democracy, return power to the people," said protester Bang-orn Saeling. "It's been two years already!"

The army took power on May 22, 2014, after several months of militant and sometimes violent protests against the government of then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup, and his supporters and opponents have been engaged in a political power struggle since then.

Sunday's march came less than three months before a referendum on a new, contentious, military-directed constitution. Critics say the charter would weaken political parties and force future governments to stick to policies preordained by the junta. A new law threatens heavy punishment for anyone campaigning for a "no" vote, but marchers took the chance to make their views known.

Some protesters wore T-shirts that said in English "Vote No," and in Thai "No to a future that we have not chosen." They called for the draft charter's rejection and staged a mock ballot in which they cast votes against it.

The march covered historic ground, from Thammasat University, known for its political activism, to nearby Democracy Monument, a popular venue for mass protests. It was peaceful except for some minor disruptions by a handful of counter-demonstrators whom police isolated from the marchers.