Pro-election activists kick off bigger campaign
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Pro-election activists kick off bigger campaign

Pro-election demonstrators hold anti-junta signs near Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on Saturday. The signs say:
Pro-election demonstrators hold anti-junta signs near Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on Saturday. The signs say: "Destroy dictatorship eggs", "Stop putting off the election" and "Stop power succession". (Photos by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

A rally by hundreds of pro-election activists at Democracy Monument ended on Saturday evening with the co-leaders wanted on earlier warrants being escorted to a police station.

All three -- Sirawich “Ja New” Serithiwat, a co-leader of the New Democracy Group; Rangsiman Rome, a law post-graduate student at Thammasat University; and Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer -- appeared at the gathering.

They were taken to the Saran Rat police station and were to be transferred later to Pathumwan police station, which is handling the case against them.

Before that, they were allowed to address hundreds of people who showed up there.   

“What people want is an election and to oppose power succession by the NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order). We meet here today to show where we stand which is within our rights. But what the government has done is transform the Democracy Monument into a garden. They're trying hard to restrict our freedom of expression and keep us in check by prosecution,” Mr Sirawich said, referring to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s move to cover all space at the monument with plant pots.

Hundreds of protesters were forced to occupy footpaths near the structure under the watchful eye of some 300 police, who checked ID cards before people were allowed to the site.

“People seeking to cast ballots are blocked by police. A monument has been turned into a garden. No matter what this country has become, this monument still has meaning and significance. Let’s make today the beginning of an end to dictatorship,” he said.

Mr Rangsiman said the event marked the beginning of an end of the NCPO regime, which has run the country since May 2014.

“We meet today to demand an election and the end to the power succession. We show a three-finger salute today -- first for the election, second for the end of dictatorship and third for democracy,” he said.

He also asked politicians what they had done over past four years. “Where were you? We’re risking our lives and being put behind bars but where are you? Time’s up on exploiting people. We’ll never elect you to Parliament. Don’t cherish the hope that we’ll choose politicians who have never lifted a finger to fight for the people.”

Mr Anon held a mock ballot for the protesters to cast symbolic votes. “I came here not as a lawyer but as a citizen who disagrees with the power succession of the NCPO.”

He said the charges against the MBK39, a group of pro-election protesters who met on the BTS skywalk on Jan 27, were an example of bullying.

“They later accused us of assembling less than 150 metres from a palace even though on that day it was the police who forced us out to the skywalk, saying it was beyond the 150m radius.”

The gathering ended at around 7pm.     

On Saturday morning, Ekkachai Hongkangwan, one of the Jan 27 protesters sought on an arrest warrant, was granted bail after being arrested in front of his house in Lat Phrao district. He was released on bail on a bond of 100,000 baht. 

One of the activists identified by police as a co-leader of the Jan 27 gathering on the BTS skywalk, he was being sought for failing to report to police on Thursday.

Like 39 others summoned to report earlier this week, Mr Ekkachai was charged with violating the public assembly law and the junta’s order banning gatherings of more than five people.

But since Mr Ekkachai was identified by police as a co-leader, along with four others, he was also charged with sedition under the Criminal Code, a more serious crime under the jurisdiction of the military court.

Following his arrest on Saturday morning, Mr Ekkachai was taken to the Lat Phrao police station before being sent to the Pathumwan police station.

A nonchalant Ekkachai told reporters while giving a three-finger salute, a reference to freedom in the Hunger Games movies, that police had waited for him in front of his house since 7am.

He said he had only received only one police summons -- police normally send two before asking the court for an arrest warrant. He also denied all the charges, saying he had done nothing wrong and did not even address the crowd during the rally.

Pathumwan police, however, dismissed his claim as an excuse and insisted they had sent him two summonses.

Mr Ekkachai was also in the news earlier when he kept trying to give Gen Prawit Wongsuwon cheap watches to make his point about the deputy prime minister’s extraordinary collection of expensive timepieces. 

Rangsiman Rome leads Anon Nampa, who carries a mock ballot box, to the rally site.

Protesters make symbolic gestures against curbs on freedom.

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