Protest marchers plan 'big surprise'
After gathering at Sanam Luang on Saturday, thousands of anti-government protesters plan to march to Government House on Sunday with a "big surprise" in store when they get there, said Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak co-leader of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD).
Addressing the crowds on the rally stage at 8pm on Saturday, Mr Parit said the protesters who camped out at Sanam Luang last night would rise early to prepare for a march to Government House at 8am.
Mr Parit said the UFTD would highlight its demands for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet to resign, as well as for members of independent agencies, the Constitutional Court and the Election Commission, to step down. Also, the group demanded that every section of the constitution be amended and the institution reformed, Mr Parit said, referring to the monarchy. He believed Gen Prayut was being isolated politically and the government would not last beyond the end of the month, and if Gen Prayut refuses to quit, more people will join the protests.
UFTD co-leader Panusaya "Rung" Sithijirawattanakul claimed that 200,000 demonstrators showed up yesterday, but Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said there were about 18,000-20,000 people. The Bangkok Post estimates the crowd at 40,000-50,000. Sanam Luang covers about 110,000 square metres and about one-third of it is still blocked off. The demonstrators, led by the UFTD, began the day by assembling under steady rain at Tha Prachan campus of Thammasat University nearby. They were joined by a number of seasoned protest veterans from the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, who have kept a low profile for the past few years.
Around noon, the crowd's anger grew as the university gates remained locked. Some attempted to climb over the fence to get inside. Ms Panusaya and Panupong "Mike Rayong" Jadnok, another leader, calmed the crowd. The protesters, however, broke into the university despite the locked gate.
Three hours later, about 1,000 people begin to move into Sanam Luang, along with a truck carrying equipment to set up a large rally stage. Police asked demonstrators to end the rally at Sanam Luang within one hour, citing a breach of the Public Assembly Act as organisers had not informed police about the activity 24 hours in advance. As Pol Col Vorasak Pisitthabannakorn, chief of Chana Songkhram station, read the announcement, some demonstrators tried to disconnect his microphone cord. Others faced off opposite anti-riot police and flashed three-finger salutes before police finally opened the gates to let the demonstrators in.
More demonstrators moved from Thammasat University to Sanam Luang, in defiance of police warnings that the "royal grounds" were off-limits. Police also warned that entry within a 50-metre radius of the Supreme Court was prohibited. "Sanam Luang in the past was a public space used by the people. Occupying it is seizing it back," the rally organisers had said in an earlier statement.
By evening, police had fenced off the grass at Sanam Luang and said demonstrators could use only the paved area of the site, where the stage was set up, but the crowd continued to swell, breaking down barriers and moving onto the grass where they settled in for a long night. Police set up a new barrier across the grass closer to the Grand Palace with three large water trucks parked behind it.
In another development, police yesterday seized 50,000 copies of a booklet on reforming the monarchy from a house near the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University in Pathum Thani. The booklets are believed to have been prepared for the protest.