City set for day of rallies

© Post Publishing PCL

City set for day of rallies

Three new demos as King opens MRT line

Political demonstration near Sanam Luang, Bangkok, on Nov 8. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Four events expected to draw large crowds, including three anti-government rallies, will take place in Bangkok on Saturday with around 5,000 police officers assigned to ensure peace and order.

His Majesty the King will officially open the new Blue Line extension at Sanam Chai station at 5pm on Saturday. The King will be accompanied by Her Majesty the Queen.

To accommodate the event, Sam Yot and Sanam Chai stations will be shut from 6am, and the line between Sam Yot and the terminal station at Lak Song will be closed from 4pm.

The two stations and the closed section will be reopened after the ceremony, a statement by the operator, Bangkok Expressway and Metro Plc, did not specify a time.

Large crowds are expected to turn up and greet Their Majesties along the route of the royal motorcade.

Also, three protests are planned for Saturday at Democracy Monument and the adjoining Ratchadamnoen Avenue.

“Mob Fest”, comprising various groups of pro-democracy supporters, will begin at 2pm, while the Free Women group will be staging a rally urging the government to tackle gender issues at the October 14 Memorial from 1-7pm.

Meanwhile, the Bad Students group has said it will demonstrate outside the Education Ministry on Ratchadamnoen Avenue at 1pm and then march to the monument at 2pm.

The group, which on Friday received permission from Chana Songkhram police station to gather at the ministry, are demanding Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha resign over the poor quality of education in the country under Nataphol Teepsuwan, his choice of education minister.

The group has also demanded Mr Nataphol’s resignation, claiming he has failed to improve standards or give students more freedom of expression.

Last month, the Bad Students group toured five well-known high schools in Bangkok in a convoy of trucks to condemn Mr Nataphol for failing to defend their right to protest.

They said there had been more than 100 cases of students being intimidated by schools and teachers for taking part.

Metropolitan Police Bureau deputy chief Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai said about 5,000 police would be on duty on Saturday at the rally sites and areas leading to key buildings, including roads to Government House and Sanam Luang.

Commenting on whether police will use water cannons to disperse protesters, Pol Maj Gen Piya said: “Police will follow each step [in crowd control].”

“If the demonstrations are peaceful, we will not use them. But if situations turn violent, we may have to deploy water cannon to bring them under control in line with standard procedures,” he said.

While he said police had no plans to set up blockades, he refused to rule out again using BMTA buses as a blockade to control marchers — despite the demands of the city bus workers’ union not to do so.

City police and the management of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority have been heavily criticised by members of the BMTA workers’ union for the “misuse” of buses as barriers during protest marchers.

The union argues the buses are paid for by taxpayers, and using them against protesters gives the impression that the city bus agency is taking sides in a political conflict.

Rows of the BMTA’s ancient “hot air” buses were used to block major thoroughfares, and to prevent protesters from walking from Sanam Luang to the adjacent Grand Palace to deliver a petition to His Majesty the King last Sunday.

However, Pol Maj Gen Piya disagreed with the union yesterday.

“The BMTA is a state agency with a duty to cooperate with state authorities,” he said, adding that any damage caused to the buses would be the fault of the protesters for trying to force their way past them.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said yesterday the government wanted to invite the protesters to give their opinions on how to tackle the economic woes caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and air their political grievances.

He said they should use parliament as a forum to resolve the problems, adding that dialogue is the best solution to the conflict.

Protest leader Arnon Nampa, yesterday dismissed an estimate by the National Security Council (NSC) that anti-government protest numbers are falling.

“The government said the people are becoming weak and just doing foolish things once again. But you must know that what you saw recently was not the peak of the protest. The protest has yet to reach its peak,” Mr Arnon wrote on Facebook.

According to a government source, NSC Secretary-General Nattapon Nakpanich told the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that the number of protesters had surged after police used water cannon to disperse them at Pathumwan intersection on Oct 16.

But since Oct 24, turnouts have been lower and fallen to an average of 12,000 at each rally, the source quoted Gen Nattapon as saying.