Thai protesters push on despite charges of royal defamation

Thai protesters push on despite charges of royal defamation
Thailand’s protest leaders remain defiant even after being told they were facing lese majeste charges. (AP)
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Updated 25 November 2020

Thai protesters push on despite charges of royal defamation

Thai protesters push on despite charges of royal defamation
  • The protesters want the monarchy reformed to be made more accountable
  • Protest leaders remained defiant even after being told they were facing lese majeste charges

BANGKOK: Pro-democracy demonstrators in Thailand on Wednesday again took to the streets of the capital, even as the government escalated its legal battle against them, reviving the use of a harsh law against defaming the monarchy.
On Tuesday, police had issued summonses for 12 protest leaders to answer charges of lese majeste, defaming or insulting key members of the royal family. The offense is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Most of the protest leaders are already facing multiple charges, ranging from blocking traffic to sedition.
The lese majeste law is controversial, because anyone — not just royals or authorities — can lodge a complaint, so it had in the past been used as a weapon in political vendettas. But it has not been employed for the past three years, after King Maha Vajiralongkorn informed the government that he did not wish to see its use. The king has not publicly commented on the law since then.
The protesters want the monarchy reformed to be made more accountable. They also want Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government to step down, and for the constitution, which was implemented under a military government, to be amended to make it more democratic.
Several of the leaders wanted by the police were present Wednesday as protesters gathered in a carnival-like atmosphere next to a bank controlled by the country’s royal family. By dusk, several thousand had gathered peacefully.
Many in the months-long student-led protest movement believe the monarchy holds too much power for a constitutional monarchy. But their challenge is fiercely opposed by royalists, including the army, who consider the royal institution an untouchable bedrock of national identity.
Food and souvenir vendors set up tables along a long stretch of sidewalk along the rim of a park-like compound occupied by the headquarters of the Siam Commercial Bank. Accessories featuring the image of a yellow rubber duck, a movement icon, could be seen almost everywhere.
The ducks became a symbol of resistance last week when human-size inflatable ducks were brought to a rally outside Parliament and satirically dubbed the protesters’ navy. When police turned water cannons on them, the ducks served as makeshift shields.
At a park in another part of Bangkok, hundreds of supporters of the monarchy gathered for a scheduled appearance by the king. He and Queen Suthida in the past month have been doing street tours where members of the public can see them face to face, an evident attempt to shore up support for the royal institution.
The venue for Wednesday’s pro-democracy rally was changed late Tuesday night by the protesters. It was earlier announced that it would be held outside the offices of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the fortune controlled by the king, estimated to be worth more than $40 billion.
The target was switched to the head office of the Siam Commercial Bank, a publicly held company in which the king is the biggest shareholder. The bank’s headquarters are in a different area of Bangkok, far from the district hosting the Crown Property Bureau and other royal and government offices.
The protest movement announced that the change of venue was to avoid a confrontation with police and royalist counter demonstrators, which they said they feared could trigger a declaration of martial law or a coup by the military.
Barbed wire had already been installed around the Crown Property Bureau offices and the government had declared a no-go zone of 150 meters (500 feet) around the property. Massive shipping containers were also deployed by cranes to block off streets.
A protest rally outside Parliament last week turned chaotic, as police fired water cannons and tear gas at the protesters. At least 55 people were hurt, including six reported to have had gunshot wounds. Police denied firing live rounds or rubber bullets.
The next day, several thousand demonstrators gathered outside the national headquarters of the police in central Bangkok to protest the force used against them. That rally was nonviolent but fueled royalist outrage at the protest movement, as demonstrators defaced the “Royal Thai Police” sign outside its headquarters and scrawled graffiti and chanted slogans that could be considered derogatory of King Vajiralongkorn.
Protest leaders remained defiant even after being told they were facing lese majeste charges. They declared they would have four more straight days of rallies to pressure the government.
One of them, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, posted his response to his summons on Twitter, saying: “I am not afraid anymore. The ceiling (of our demands) is destroyed. Nobody can stop us now.”
A statement issued Wednesday by Free Youth, the driving force in the coalition of protest groups, called Thailand a failed state whose people “are ruled by capitalists, military and feudalists.”
“And under this state, the ruling class oppress the people who are the true founders and heirs of this country, not any great king,” said the statement, the most strident issued so far in the name of the group.


Quake death toll at 73 as Indonesia struggles with string of disasters

Quake death toll at 73 as Indonesia struggles with string of disasters
Updated 11 min 44 sec ago

Quake death toll at 73 as Indonesia struggles with string of disasters

Quake death toll at 73 as Indonesia struggles with string of disasters
  • More than 820 people were injured and over 27,800 left their homes after the 6.2 magnitude quake
  • On Jan. 9, a Sriwijaya Air jet crashed into the Java Sea with 62 onboard
JAKARTA: At least 73 people have been killed after an earthquake struck Indonesia’s West Sulawesi province on Friday, the disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Sunday, the latest in a string of disasters to hit the Southeast Asian country.
More than 820 people were injured and over 27,800 left their homes after the 6.2 magnitude quake, BNPB spokesman Raditya Jati said. Some sought refuge in the mountains, while others went to cramped evacuation centers, witnesses said.
Police and military officers have been deployed to crack down on looting in several parts of the region, Jati added.
An emergency response status, intended to help rescue efforts, has also been put in place for two weeks, he said.
Dwikorita Karnawati, the head of Indonesia’s meteorological, climatology and geophysical agency (BMKG), has said that another quake in the region could potentially trigger a tsunami.
Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands.
Just two weeks into the new year, the world’s fourth-most populous country is battling several disasters.
Floods in North Sulawesi and South Kalimantan province each have killed at least five this month, while landslides in West Java province have killed at least 29, authorities said.
On Jan. 9, a Sriwijaya Air jet crashed into the Java Sea with 62 onboard.
East Java’s Semeru mountain erupted late on Saturday, but there have been no reports of casualties or evacuations.
Dwikorita said extreme weather and other “multi-dangers” of hydrometeorology are forecast in the coming weeks.