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Thousands gather at Sanam Luang

Demonstrators settle in on Saturday evening for what is expected to be a long night at Sanam Luang. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

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Thousands of protesters have gathered at Sanam Luang in Bangkok for what they say will be a two-day protest.

The mostly young demonstrators, who began the day by assembling at Tha Prachan campus of Thammasat University nearby, have also vowed to press for a new constitution, an end to military-dominated government and reform of the monarchy, an issue that has provoked strong reactions from more conservative segments of society.

However, an increasing number of seasoned protest veterans from the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), after keeping a low profile for the past few years, have decided it’s time to throw their support behind the movement. This story will be updated regularly and readers can also follow live feeds on the Bangkok Post's Facebook and Twitter.

8pm: Speakers have been taking turns on the stage, reiterating that the prime minister should resign and the constitution must be rewritten. Musicians are keeping the crowd entertained in between speeches, as all await the headline speakers starting around 9pm.



7pm: Politicians spotted at the rally include Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat and some party MPs; former Future Forward stalwarts Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Pannika Wanich, now of the Progressive Movement; Chaturon Chaisang, a former Thai Raksa Chart member; and Parit Wacharasindhu, a former Democrat Party member.

Speaking of politicians, the rally is taking place on the 14th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra.

Various interest groups have set up desks where people are invited to sign up in support of bills such as a new alcohol bill that would allow craft beer, and another one dealing with abortion rights.

The Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw) also set up desks for people to sign up for its “people’s charter amendment bill” near Sanam Laung. It has gained 90,000 signatures, well above the 50,000 required for citizens to submit a bill to Parliament.

Its version of the bill envisages the entire country as the constituency for the election of constitution drafters, unlike the versions of the coalition parties or the opposition, which want the provinces as constituencies. The latter approach is seen as making voters vulnerable to the influence of local politicians and their networks.

6.30pm: Police estimate the crowd has grown to about 20,000 but an organiser on the rally stage claimed the figure had reached 100,000. The umbrellas are out again as light rain has resumed.

Crowd estimates always vary wildly depending on who is counting. Sanam Luang covers about 110,000 square metres and about one-third of it is still blocked off. Most participants are sitting, representing a density of about one person for every 1-2 sq m, but some areas are still open. 

5pm: Police fence off the grass at Sanam Luang and say demonstrators can use only the paved area of the site, where the stage has been set up, but the crowd continues to swell, breaking down the barriers and moving onto the grass where they settle in for a long night.



Police set up a new barrier across the grass closer to the Grand Palace. The Public Assembly Act forbids gathering within 150 metres from the compound of the Grand Palace and palaces of Royal Family members. Three large water trucks have been stationed behind the new barrier.

The latest police estimate of the crowd is 5,000 but many more are expected to arrive as the night goes on, with the main speeches not expected to start until around 9pm.

3.40pm: More demonstrators move from Thammasat University to Sanam Luang, in defiance of police warnings that the “royal ground” is off-limits. Police also warn that entry within a 50-metre radius of the Supreme Court is prohibited.

“Sanam Laung in the past was a public space used by the people. Occupying it is seizing it back,” the rally organisers said in an earlier statement.

Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue might also be closed for art exhibitions and other activities. The road name will be changed to “Rassadon Avenue”, they said.

Organisers say the rally will continue overnight. At 8am on Sunday, an anti-dictatorship march will begin — but not to Government House as planned earlier, and where security officials had concentrated many of their resources to protect the site.

“We had said we would march to Government House. But now whoever is waiting there can go home,” the organisers’ statement said. “As to where we’ll go, we’ll announce on that day.”

3pm: About 1,000 people begin to move into Sanam Luang, along with a truck carrying equipment to set up a large rally stage. Police ask demonstrators to end the rally at Sanam Luang within one hour, citing a breach of the Public Assembly Act as organisers did not inform officers about the activity 24 hours in advance.

As the police read the announcement, some demonstrators try to disconnect the microphone cord. Others face off opposite anti-riot police and flash three-finger salutes. Police have to open the gates to let the demonstrators in

Noon:
The crowd’s anger grows as the university gates remain locked. Some attempt to climb over the fence to get inside. Protest leaders Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Panupong “Mike Rayong” Jadnok calm the crowd and negotiate with university staff, who finally agree to open the gates to allow the crowds in.

11am: Sanam Luang, Tha Prachan and Tha Phra Arthit gates all remain closed. Police and medical personnel set up checkpoints with metal detectors and for temperature checks.

10.40am: Panupong arrives at the venue, saying he wants to observe the situation and see how many people joined the rally. He says he never thought Thammasat would close its gates given its historical reputation for supporting free expression.

He says what worries him most is the possibility that “third hands” might instigate unrest during the rally, something that has happened on numerous politically charged occasions in the past, including in 2006 and 2010.

He insists the rally will be peaceful and is being staged to press three demands: dissolution of the House, a rewrite of the constitution and an end to harassment of those critical of the government.

10.30am: Activists from the so-called Free Isan Movement based in Maha Sarakham arrive at Sanam Luang with a truck equipped with loudspeaker. Some take turns to criticise the government.

Other red-shirt members from the North and Northeast continue to flock to the venue. Some carry placards reading “Red-shirt people stand by young people”. Artwork from several universities featuring anti-dictatorship messages is displayed along the fences of Thammasat University at the Sanam Luang side.

10.20am: Demonstrators arriving in large numbers on the Sanam Luang side. All had to pass through a weapons screening checkpoint.

10.10am: Officers from Provincial Police Region 2 stationed at the Tha Prachan entrance gate to the university.

A group of red-shirt protesters is spotted carrying a large banner bearing a picture of Maj Khattiya “Seh Ice” Sawasdipol, who was killed by a sniper at the height of the UDD protests in 2010.

10am: Khlong Luang police seize 50,000 copies of a booklet on reforming the monarchy from a house near the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University in Pathum Thani. They are believed to have been prepared tp be distributed at the protest. A number of students follow to the police station.

9am: Demonstrators begin streaming toward the campus where all gates are still locked. University administrators had earlier forbidden the use of the campus for the rally, saying protest leaders had not agreed to requests to curb some of their more controversial demands.

Wearing black T-shirts, face masks, raincoats and carrying umbrellas, school and university students and members of the public walk along Ratchadamnoen Avenue to the area in front of the university on Phra That Road in pouring rain.

Tents are set up in front of the campus from Gate 1 to Gate 2 with drinking water available.

At Lan Tha Prachan, health workers set up checkpoints to take the temperature of people attending the rally.

In total, 57 companies of police, or about 8,500 officers, have been deployed at 14 locations. Their number includes border patrol police from Chai Nat province and anti-riot officers from Nakhon Pathom.

Vocabulary:

abortion : a medical operation in which a developing baby is removed from a woman’s body so that it is not born alive - การทำแท้ง

activists (noun): people who take part in activities that are intended to achieve political or social change, especially someone who is a member of an organisation - นักกิจกรรม

assemble : to bring together and form a group - นำมาร่วมกัน

barrier : a bar or gate that stops people, animals or vehicles from entering a place - สิ่งกีดขวางทางผ่าน

charter : a formal statement of the rights of a country's people, or of an organization or a particular social group - กฎบัตร

constitution : the set of laws and basic principles that a country in governed by - รัฐธรรมนูญ

controversial : causing disagreement or disapproval - ความไม่ลงรอยกัน

coup : the seizure of power in a country by a group of people, usually members of the armed forces - รัฐประหาร

criticise : to say that you disapprove of somebody/something; to say what you do not like or think is wrong about somebody/something - วิจารณ์, ติเตียน,จับผิด

curb : to control or limit something - จำกัดขอบเขต, ควบคุม

defiance : the refusal to obey - การขัดขืน

demonstrators : people who march with other people in public to show that they support or oppose something - ผู้ชุมนุมประท้วง

dictatorship : a government having complete power and which does not rule democratically - เผด็จการ

dissolution of parliament : formally ending the House of Representatives, usually leading to a general election - การยุบสภา

expression : things that people say, write or do in order to show their feelings, opinions and ideas - การแสดงความคิด, การแสดงออก

fence off (verb): to divide one area from another with a fence - แยกออกมาด้วยรั้ว

flock : to go somewhere in large numbers; to gather together in large numbers - แห่กันไป

forbidden (adj): not allowed - ต้องห้าม, ถูกห้าม

monarchy (noun): the king or queen of a country and their family - ราชวงศ์, พระบรมวงศานุวงศ์

placard : a large written or printed notice that is put in a public place or carried in a march or protest - ป้ายประกาศ, แผ่นประกาศ

reform : a change that is intended to correct a situation that is wrong or unfair - การแก้ไข การปฏิรูป

reiterate : to repeat something in order to emphasise it - พูดซ้ำ ย้ำ

riot : a violent protest by a group of people - ความไม่สงบ การจลาจล

salute : to put your hand to your head as a formal way of showing respect to someone, especially a senior officer in the armed forces - คำนับ,แสดงความเคารพ

seize : to take something using official power and force - จับกุม

swell : to increase in size or number - เพิ่มจำนวน, เพิ่มขนาด, เพิ่มปริมาณ

weapon : an object such as a knife, gun, bomb, etc. that is used for fighting or attacking somebody - อาวุธ

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