Scuffles as police stifle civic march

Scuffles as police stifle civic march

'People Go Network' tries to publicise issues with govt

police intervention: Officers struggle to contain people from a group called the 'People Go Network' as they try to break through a cordon in front of Thammasat University's Rangsit campus yesterday.
police intervention: Officers struggle to contain people from a group called the 'People Go Network' as they try to break through a cordon in front of Thammasat University's Rangsit campus yesterday.

A new wave of political challenge to the government surfaced Sunday as about a hundred people from several civic networks attempted to begin a political walk from Thammasat University's Rangsit campus to Khon Kaen to raise awareness of various issues they have with the regime.

The group, which calls itself the "People Go Network", kicked off the "We Walk" march at the campus in Pathum Thani yesterday morning. Among their number were advocates for state welfare, health insurance, alternative farming practices, natural resources as well as academics and lawyers.

Led by Anusorn Unno, dean of Thammasat University's Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, the group said it wants to cultivate a network of those with opposing views to the government's policies in relation to food security, natural resources, community rights and civil liberty.

Police, however, blocked the group from leaving the university on the grounds that were in breech of the public assembly law and also posed a risk to public safety.

The demonstrators nevertheless tried to break through the police cordon, prompting a brief tussle.

The group's representatives later met with Pol Maj Gen Surapong Thanomjit, chief of Pathum Thani police, to ask for permission for 10 people from the group to complete the protest march to Khon Kaen, but the proposal was rejected.

Later yesterday afternoon, four people from the network slipped through the defence line and walked together on Phahon Yothin Road. Soon after, another two groups -- of four people each -- also followed them. Four being a significant number as the regime prohibits the political gathering of five or more people.

Plainclothes police officers on pickup trucks and motorcycles were reported to have followed the marching demonstrators and taken photos of them from time to time.

Meanwhile, the remaining activists held talks and dined together at the university. They later arranged to meet those who had managed to begin the march in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima next weekend.

Mr Anusorn said that despite the police citing the ban on political gatherings, he believed that the march would have given people a valuable opportunity to express their opinion and make their voices heard.

The lecturer argued that the only way problems in society can be tackled is through open debate, insisting that the network has no intention of expunging anyone from power.

Sangsiri Teemanka, coordinator of the People Go Network, said the group's intention was not to mobilise a mob or cause civic unrest. According to the plan, the group of about 15 members and supporters will take turns to walk the 450 kilometres to Khon Kaen over 28 days, arriving on Feb 17.

"We call this a 'people's procession' which is peaceful. We will just walk, meet our supporters and drop by to discuss [issues] with our friends along the way," she said, adding that the network of 90 organisations began three years ago with the intention of monitoring the national referendum on the charter and other social problems.

She said she was happy with the support given to them by bystanders on the first day of the walk and via Facebook. However, she was disappointed that police had blocked them for nine hours.

According to the group's statement, the country is now in crisis as the government has arisen from a coup and does not represent the will of the people while it wields absolute power without being subject to scrutiny.

Corruption, injustice and government policies which are beneficial to wealthy capitalists are among cited the problems.

However, Chulalongkorn University political scientist Chaiyan Chaiyaporn said now is not the time for large political protests to return to Thai streets.

Although more protests are likely to come gradually, he said, their ferociousness is likely to be proportional to how the authorities respond to them.

"If authorities avoid violent clashes with activists, and choose to engage in dialogue with them, rather than detaining them, the situation will not grow out of control," he said, adding that activists will always be likely to respond defiantly to any indication of heavy-handed policing.

National Human Rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit said she did not see the walk as a political protest but just a social activity.

"This is not a mob, but if they are constrained too much, dissatisfaction might grow which could lead to larger protests against the government," she argued.

She said Assoc Prof Gothom Arya, director of the Mahidol University Research Centre for Peace, had recently finished his "Peace Walk" to shed light on the problems of the south and the People Go Network's We Walk similarly civic-minded.

"Peace and order does not mean people cannot say anything different from the government," she said, emphasising that such an activity was unlikely to provoke unrest.

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