PM says rallies 'waste of time'
Rival gatherings don't help nation progress, insists Prayut
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says political rallies by his supporters and opponents are a waste of time as such activities do not help the country move forward.
"I am not an enemy of anyone. Everyone should figure out how to steer the country forward rather than wasting time on such things," the prime minister said on Monday.
He was speaking at the launch of a project "Youth Build the Nation" initiated by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, attended by more than 500 students from state and private universities.
On Sunday, supporters and opponents of Gen Prayut turned up in droves for their respective political rallies.
The anti-regime "Wing Lai Lung" (Run to Oust the Uncle) running event was held at Suan Rot Fai or Vachirabenjatas Park in Bangkok's Chatuchak district.
The Metropolitan Police Bureau's (MPB) official count for the number of participants at the run was 13,260, roughly in line with the event's organisers claim of 13,000 people, who included key figures from the opposition and political activists.
Among them were Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit; FFP list-MP and spokeswoman Pannika Wanich; Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, a former election commissioner; Surapong Suebwonglee, the former finance minister under the Samak Sundaravej administration; Veera Somkwamkid,secretary-general of the People's Network Against Corruption; Nuttaa Mahattana, a political activist; and Pitch Pongsawat, a political science lecturer with Chulalongkorn University.
According to the event's organisers, the next anti-Prayut run is planned for Chiang Mai on Feb 2.
Across the city at Lumpini Park, thousands of people gathered to show support for Gen Prayut at another gathering called "Dern Cheer Lung" (Walk in Support of Uncle).
High-profile figures taking part in the pro-Prayut event included Rianthong Nanna, director of the privately-run Mongkutwattana Hospital; Capt Songklod Chuenchuphol, alias "Phukong Poo Kem"; businessman Sathit Segal, and Katerut Laothamatas, a list MP of the Action Coalition for Thailand Party, a coalition partner.
According to the MPB, some 8,000 supporters of Gen Prayut turned up at Lumpini Park.
Activist Srisuwan Janya posted on Facebook that the two rival rallies violated the public assembly law, and that police must take action.
The Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution secretary-general said the anti-Prayut run at Suan Rot Fai was not a peaceful gathering.
This is because someone on the stage asked participants to shout out demands for the ouster of Gen Prayut, Mr Srisuwan said.
Regarding the rally in support of Gen Prayut, Mr Srisuwan said it was not peaceful either.
Video clips showed participants repeatedly stomping on pictures of certain well-known politicians to loud cheers and applause, Mr Srisuwan said.
Even though the rally organisers had sought permission in advance to organise the activity from police, they still failed to control participants, thereby breaking the public assembly law.
Phetchawat Wattanapongsirikul, deputy leader of the Puea Chat Party and a key figure of the Rak Chiang Mai 51 Group, said he does not personally know the organisers of the anti-Prayut rally planned in Chiang Mai on Feb 2.
However, he said he is ready to support the activity as long as the gathering is peaceful, complies with the law, and does not violate other people's rights.
"The planned activity in Chiang Mai is expected to be similar to that in Bangkok, though the details may differ. The government should allow the public to hold forums or activities and it must also be ready to listen to the public, rather than using legal measures to stop them. Under a democratic system, the public has the right to criticise the government," Mr Phetchawat said.
Phichit Tamoon, a United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leader in Chiang Mai, said organisers of the planned rally in Chiang Mai share the same democratic ideals and he is also ready to support them.