Police seize 'sensitive' banners

Coup figures mocked in university parade floats

Authorities seized “politically sensitive” banners from Thammasat University students on Sunday after blocking their entrance to a parade at the National Stadium.

FLOATING IDEAS: Thammasat students mock the government's one-sided information with an effigy of Prime Minister Prayut Cha-o-cha speaking with yellow- and red-shirt supporters.

The incident took place ahead of the annual football match between arch-rivals Chulalongkorn and Thammasat universities, an event famed for its colourful floats mocking senior political figures.

The standoff between students and plainclothes police erupted about an hour after an inspection of the parade floats by university executives and Metropolitan Police Division 6 chief Pol Maj Gen Chayaphon Chatchaidet, who had reminded the universities to “carefully watch” the students’ activities.

The parades of both teams began entering the stadium at 2pm as scheduled.

But spotting what they said were “inappropriate words” on some of the Thammasat banners, officers rushed to close the stadium’s main gate to prevent the students’ entry.

It was not clear what the offending words were.

The decision drew displeasure from the students, who attempted to convince the officers to open the gate.

Unable to resist what the officers described as “pressure” from the students, the police eventually relented and allowed the parade to proceed, but confiscated the offending banners.

Still, the Thammasat procession featured pointed messages, including an effigy of a teacher displaying the junta’s 12 “core values” written on a whiteboard.

When the float made its way to in front of the VIP spectator section, the whiteboard surface was torn down to reveal the word “Democracy” crossed out in red ink.

Another float mocked the screen backdrop of the Return Happiness to the People television programme hosted by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The students’ backdrop featured well-known characters from Teletubbies, a BBC television series for children.

LOST FOR WORDS: A plainclothes police officer, right, tells Thammasat students to surrender a banner deemed to contain 'inappropriate' words.

Effigies of Transport Minister ACM Prajin Juntong and Thai Bus Operators Association president Suchinda Cherdchai also attracted attention, with the display mocking the pair’s role in setting city and inter-provincial bus fares.

Other floats included Lady Justice holding slanting scales and stabbing herself with a sword, and “Thailand Farm”, featuring models of animals inspired by George Orwell’s anti-Stalinist novella Animal Farm.

The Chulalongkorn floats focused on the impact of social media on modern Thai society.

As all eyes were focused on the parade, an unidentified pro-democracy group also unfurled two banners in the stands, attacking the NCPO for its decision to overthrow the government on May 22 last year.

"Down with dictatorship, long live democracy," one of the banners read. "Coup=Corruption," said the other.

The annual match is also famed for elaborate coordinated flashcard displays in the stands.

One of them spelt out, "We want democracy, when will you return it to us?"

The NCPO and the two universities had earlier agreed that this year’s parade would avoid words that may be “exploited by ill-minded people”.

The junta did not intend to censor students’ tradition of political mockery, but only wanted to prevent any “precursors to unpleasant impacts”, NCPO spokesman Col Winthai Suvaree had said on Friday.

Chulalongkorn University rector Prom Kamolratanakul had echoed the junta’s concerns, while the Thammasat Cheer Club and the university's parade participants said they understood the military’s stance and would restrict activities that may provoke conflict.

Thammasat eventually went on to beat arch-rival Chulalongkorn 2-0 in the 70th annual match, breaking a three-year losing streak.

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