“We will start moving between 8:30 and 9am and will definitely reach Government House.
“I promise that we don’t aim to lay siege to the government compound, we just want to gather to demand the government holds an election this year,” said leader Rangsiman Rome, a co-leader of the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG).
The group informed Chana Songkhram Police that about 2,000 activists will march from Thammasat University to Government House today.
The activists and supporters gathered at the university yesterday evening (May 21) to prepare despite the fact that the university had sealed off its football field in what was seen as an attempt to block the group from using the campus as their base camp.
Thammasat was chosen because it is close to Government House. But its history as the site of planning to topple dictators of the past, especially in 1973 and 1992, lay over yesterday’s break-in.
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) stint in power after staging the coup that toppled the Pheu Thai Party-led government in 2014.
The demonstrators, known as “People who want an election”, and led by the DRG, are trying to pressure the government into holding a general election by November this year as originally promised by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha despite his proposal of a new February 2019 date.
The activists are also demanding the NCPO step down before the poll and that the military should stop supporting the council.
A Facebook account named “Under Bed TU” posted a photo showing the football pitch cordoned off with a sign saying “This field is closed temporarily. Fertilisers and weed killers are being used on the pitch.”
Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said yesterday that he had ordered the Chana Songkhram Police Station chief to revoke permission for the demonstrators to gather at Thammasat.
Gen Srivara said that the gathering breached the NCPO ban on political gatherings of five or more people. If they defy the order, they will face legal action, he said, adding that up to 200 companies of crowd control officers will be deployed to beef up security.
Gen Srivara said intelligence services had confirmed that hardcore elements of the red-shirt group intend to infiltrate the anti-regime activists’ ranks.
Col Kampanat Na Wichai, commander of the police’s Special Branch Bureau’s Division 3, said that all buildings at Government House will be secured by police from 6am today onwards and barricades have now been set up.
Military intelligence personnel from the 11th Infantry Regiment, and the 21st Infantry Regiment, are on standby to support police security operations while City Hall will supply fire trucks and lighting equipment for security officers to deal with the protest.
Also yesterday, representatives of the tourism industry handed a letter to Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat to relay their concerns about possible repercussions the anti-regime rally will have on the country’s image and travellers’ confidence in safety.
A Facebook account run by the DRG posted an interview with Mr Rangsiman who said that efforts would be made to ensure the march would not affect other peoples’ rights and pledged that it would be limited to only one traffic lane.
Responding to the university’s ban on the use of the football pitch, Mr Rangsiman said the group had switched to an area in front of Sri Burapha Auditorium at the university.
He allayed concerns about possible clashes between the demonstrators and security officials during today’s march, saying the demonstration would be well organised and the police had been consulted.
Mr Rangsiman also wrote on Facebook that he believed there would be a large turnout to support the march today, which means the number of people who fear the regime is declining.
Pro-election activist, Sirawith Seritiwat, a key member of the demonstration, said on Facebook the protest will go ahead as planned despite the government exerting pressure to stop it.
The “People who want an election” group issued a statement yesterday denouncing state officials for violating human rights. The group accused security officials of intimidating people who plan to join the rally.
According to the statement, Uthai Thaewpho, who rented sound equipment to the group, and his wife, were escorted by soldiers from their home to a military camp on Sunday (May 20), which the group said was a violation of human rights.
Mr Sirawith, also known as “Ja New”, claimed the couple were later released after soldiers asked them to sign a document to confirm that they would not take part in the march.
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