Apprehensive Thais await major political rally in Bangkok

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Pro-democracy activist and student leaders raise a three-fingers salute, a symbol of resistance after a protest rally at Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. A two-day rally planned for this weekend is jangling nerves in Bangkok, with apprehension about how far student demonstrators will go in pushing demands for reform of Thailands monarchy and how the authorities might react. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the Saturday-Sunday event. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

BANGKOK – A two-day rally planned this weekend is jangling nerves in Bangkok, with apprehension about how far student demonstrators will go in pushing demands for reform of Thailand’s monarchy and how the authorities might react.

At least 10,000 people were estimated to have attended a major protest rally on Aug. 16, and a bigger turnout is expected this time. In an escalation of tactics, organizers plan to march to Government House, the prime minister’s offices, to hand over petitions.

The initial demands of the alliance of groups behind a series of anti-government demonstrations were for a dissolution of Parliament with fresh elections, a new constitution and an end to intimidation of political activists.

But the main organizers behind this weekend’s rally have been promoting an additional point. They want restraints on the power of the monarchy, an institution long presented as the nation’s cornerstone and untouchable.

This open challenge to the palace has dramatically raised the political temperature.

These dissidents view the monarchy in its current form as opaque and unaccountable. At a rally last month outside Bangkok, they launched a 10-point manifesto for its reform.

Underlining their challenge, they plan to make a symbolic point this weekend by leading their supporters to occupy a field adjacent to the planned rally site.

The field, Sanam Luang, was until recently an open space. It was once Thailand’s equivalent of England’s Hyde Park, where politics could be openly debated. But now it’s classified as a royal site and permanently fenced off.