Thailand issues emergency decree in crackdown on swelling protests

Pro-democracy protesters are jammed up against a line of police as activists push the crowd forward during an anti-government rally in Bangkok on October 14, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 October 2020

Thailand issues emergency decree in crackdown on swelling protests

  • More than 20 people were arrested under the sweeping powers of the decree
  • The demonstration was intended to commemorate the 47th anniversary of a 1973 student uprising that saw 77 people killed

BANGKOK: Thailand issued an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people on Thursday as it launched a crackdown on escalating pro-democracy demonstrations that have also targeted the unassailable monarchy.
More than 20 people were arrested under the sweeping powers of the decree, which is aimed at halting months of student-led protests against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the former army chief who took power in a 2014 coup.
It comes a day after protesters challenged the royal motorcade, flashing the three-fingered salute adopted from “The Hunger Games” books and films, in an unprecedented act of defiance against the usually revered monarchy.
After the emergency measures were announced early on Thursday, police in riot gear moved in to disperse hundreds of diehard protesters who had camped out overnight outside the prime minister’s office.
Student leader Parit Chiwarak, better known as “Penguin,” was among more than 20 people arrested, according to Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, another prominent activist.
A Facebook Live stream later showed Panusaya being bundled into a car by police as her supporters shouted “Long live the people!” and raised the “Hunger Games” salute.
The emergency measures limit gatherings to four people and allow the seizure of “electronic communications equipment, data, and weapons suspected to cause the emergency situation,” a government spokesman said.
“These are orders banning gatherings of five or more people... and banning distributing of news through electronic media that can affect national security,” the spokesman said in a statement.
The order was imposed after thousands of demonstrators rallied around Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on Wednesday, ahead of a scheduled drive-by of the royal motorcade carrying King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his family.
While police cordoned most of the protesters away from the royal route, dozens were still present as the motorcade passed and Queen Suthida could be seen staring from a limousine window as protesters flashed the three-fingered salute.

Such overt challenges to the monarchy are unheard-of in Thailand, where the royal family’s influence permeates every aspect of society.
Those calls have prompted a backlash from Thailand’s staunchly pro-royalist establishment.
The King is the most powerful figure in Thailand and is supported by the kingdom’s powerful military and billionaire clans.
He spends much of his time in Europe, but he and his family have been in Thailand in recent days for an annual Buddhist ceremony.
Wednesday’s drive-by was the first close encounter the royal family has had with the protesters. The day before, protesters had flashed the salute from a distance as the royal motorcade drove by.
Several popular anti-government movements have arisen in the turbulent modern history of Thailand, which has endured long bouts of political unrest and more than a dozen successful military coups since 1932.
The army has long positioned itself as the sole defender of the ultra-wealthy king, whose power stretches across every facet of Thai society.
Activists have repeatedly said they wish only for the monarchy to adapt to modern times.
Their demands include the abolition of a strict royal defamation law — which shields the king from criticism — and for the monarch to stay out of politics.
Since the protests started, dozens of activists have been arrested, charged with sedition and released on bail.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said the premier had ordered police to press charges against “the protesters who obstructed the royal motorcade” on Wednesday.
Charges will also be pursued against “those who had acted in a way that defames the monarchy,” he said in a statement.
“They must face legal procedures without exception.”
After protesters marched to the Government House on Wednesday, they stayed through the night shouting for Prayut to “get out,” while some camped outside.
The demonstration was intended to commemorate the 47th anniversary of a 1973 student uprising that saw 77 people killed.


Palestinians should support candidates ‘based on issues not ethnicity’

Updated 22 October 2020

Palestinians should support candidates ‘based on issues not ethnicity’

  • Newman came within 2,000 votes of unseating Dan Lipinski
  • The 3rd Congressional District has been held by a Democrat since 1975 and is overwhelmingly Democratic

CHICAGO: Most Arab-Americans in an Illinois congressional district race chose to support an American candidate who supported Arab and Palestinian rights over a Palestinian Arab-American candidate they said could not win the election, the spokesman for the winner said on Wednesday.

Shadin Maali, whose family originates from Beitunia, Palestine near Ramallah, said she agreed to become the spokesperson for Marie Newman over the candidacy of Palestinian American videographer Rashad “Rush” Darwish because Darwish could not win and Newman could.

Maali, who serves as Newman’s campaign chairwoman and spokesperson, said Newman sought Arab-American support, embracing many of the community’s political concerns. Newman, she said, listened to the community and included them in her campaign. That support, she said, helped to unseat Congressman Dan Lipinski, an entrenched eight-term conservative Democrat who had marginalized Arab-American issues and supported many anti-Palestinian congressional bills.

“A representative, if they are going to represent our district, he needs to align with our values. If he wants our support, he needs to align with our values, which are not radical values,” Maali said during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Show” on Detroit’s WNZK AM 690 and US Arab Radio network, which is sponsored by Arab News newspaper every Wednesday morning.

“We support human rights. To support civil rights. To support justice. The fact that he (Lipinski) didn’t care and denied and declined meeting with us was a slap in the face.”

Newman came within 2,000 votes of unseating Lipinski, losing in March 2018. But with Arab-American support, she easily defeated Lipinski in the March 2020 Democratic Primary by more than 2,816 votes.

Newman won with 52,384 votes while Lipinski lost with 49,568. The Palestinian-Arab candidate who tried to appeal to Arab-American candidates, Rush Darwish, spent nearly $800,000 on the election but only won 6,351 votes, or 5.7 percent of the 110,852 votes cast.

Maali said that she unsuccessfully appealed to Darwish to exit the race and support Newman, who backs many of the issues that Arabs and Palestinian Americans support.

Newman “had the strongest path to victory,” Maali said, while Rush Darwish, a first-time candidate with little experience, did not. She called it a “tough choice,” but added that in the end the best interests of the district’s constituents, including Arab Americans, was the priority.

“So, when she asked me to be her campaign chairwoman, it was a hard decision for me to make because we did have an Arab-American, a Palestinian-American running,” she said.

“That was the reason why I supported her because she represented us on our issues. She gave us a platform . . . and she could win.”

The 3rd Congressional District has been held by a Democrat since 1975 and is overwhelmingly Democratic. It was ranked as having the eighth largest Arab-American population of 50 American congressional districts by The New York Times. It also has the largest concentration of Palestinian-American voters, Maali said.

Maali said that to be successful in winning support for Palestine, Arab-American voters also needed to support the mainstream American population on issues that were important to them.

“Palestine is not the only issue,” she said.

“We care about health care. We care about education. We care about incentives for small businesses. We care about the refugees and immigration reform. We care about all of those issues. We are here as Americans. We care about making sure human rights are not violated anywhere in the world.”

Maali said that Newman supported the right of Arab-Americans to express their opposition to the policies of foreign countries such as Israel, noting that boycotts were an expression of free speech.

Acknowledging that Americans boycotting the racism of the government of South Africa helped to force the end of apartheid there, Maali said Americans also supported boycotting Israel’s government policies, which discriminated against civilians.

“We wanted to make sure we would always be able to practice our right to boycott because it is a fundamental civil right,” Maali said.

Lipinski, she said, supported the passage of legislation that punished Americans who supported boycotting Israeli government policies in the Occupied West Bank.

During the second segment of the radio show, conservative political consultant, Jeff Davis, of Victory Media, said that the public should not rely on news media polling that showed former Vice President Joe Biden as having a significant edge over President Donald Trump.

Davis said that voters should concentrate on several key battleground states including Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan.

An analysis of the Arab-American population shows that four battleground states — Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — have significant Arab-American voters who could help to drive the election results.

But Davis said that with the new system of mail-in ballots, some state elections might not be fully tabulated for as long as 10 days after the Nov. 3, 2020 election.

“The question really is, how soon will we know? The difference is vote-by-mail applications because of COVID-19 are through the roof. What that means is you are going to have a certain amount of percentage that is going to be outstanding on election day,” Davis said.

 “We might not know for nine days (after the election),” Davis said.

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“The Ray Hanania Show” is broadcast every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. EST in Detroit and simulcast on the Arab News newspaper Facebook page. For more information, visit Arab News online at www.arabnews.com/us2020election.