NPO bill's opponents confront police barricade

NPO bill's opponents confront police barricade

Protesters, left, and police, right, face off across rolls of razor wire in the middle of Chamai Maruchet bridge on Monday. The protesters are demanding the government shelve the NPO bill. (Photo: Apichit Jinakul)
Protesters, left, and police, right, face off across rolls of razor wire in the middle of Chamai Maruchet bridge on Monday. The protesters are demanding the government shelve the NPO bill. (Photo: Apichit Jinakul)

Opponents of the bill on the operations of non-profit organisations said on Monday they will step up their protest, saying the NPO bill was designed to keep the activities of non-government organisations (NGOs) in check.

On Monday morning about 100 protesters under the banner of the "movement against draft legislation to annihilate public gatherings" who had been camped in front of the United Nations offices on Ratchadamnoen Avenue began moving to Government House, to demand the government scrap the bill.

Starting about 9am they made their way past Thewakam Rangrak bridge and Nang Lerng intersection to Chamai Maruchet bridge, where they were confronted by barricades, razor wire and shipping containers, set up to prevent them from proceeding to Government House.

The blockade was manned by police in uniform, who lined up across the bridge exit.

The protesters set up a stage in the middle of the bridge, demanding to see Prime Minister's Office Minister Anucha Nakasai.

About 10.30am their leaders began speaking by turn, saying the government-sponsored bill was against the constitution and principles of human rights. They said the legislation viewed NGOs as a threat to national security.

At 10.35am, protest leader Somboon Khamhaeng, alias Bang Kaen, began negotiating with police. Mr Anucha had earlier promised to come out and see them at 11.10am.

At 11.42am, the protesters moved to confront police after Mr Anucha did not show up, threatening to push forward. Some began to throw thiings at police, but were calmed down by their leaders.

The situation became tense when the protest leaders announced at 11.55am that if the government did not send a representative to meet them for talks they would remain at Chamai Maruchet bridge and continue their protest.

They told their supporters to sit or lie down and not resist or retaliate if police took action to break up the protest.

Shortly after noon, police brought a water canon vehicle to the other side of the Prem Prachakorn canal, signalling tough action against the protesters.

The protest leaders announced at 12.10pm they would step up the protest to another level.

The NPO bill is currently being put for public opinion by the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, after the cabinet approved it in principle in January. Once the process is complete, it needs  further cabinet approval before going to parliament for deliberation.

Opponents have highlighted two controversial issues in the bill - it requires NGOs to disclose their sources of funding, and declares broadly that their activities must not threaten national security or law and order.

Critics argue the bill was designed to curb NGO activities and silence anti-government voices.

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