Thai Royalists Cheer The King, 'Hunger Games' Protesters Raise a Three-Finger Salute

Published November 15th, 2020 - 08:01 GMT
A protester stands next to part of the Democracy Monument draped with a large white sheet with pro-democracy messages from activists during an anti-government rally in Bangkok on November 14, 2020. Jack TAYLOR / AFP
A protester stands next to part of the Democracy Monument draped with a large white sheet with pro-democracy messages from activists during an anti-government rally in Bangkok on November 14, 2020. Jack TAYLOR / AFP
Highlights
Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun and Queen Suthida opened a Bangkok train line.

Thailand appeared a country divided today as royalists rallied to cheer on the King while pro-democracy protesters raised a Hunger Games three-finger salute at an ant-monarchy rally. 

Royalists turned out in their thousands as Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun and Queen Suthida opened a new extension of the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT) Blue Line in Bangkok this morning.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy protesters rallied in the centre of the city, taking an opportunity to display their rejection of the country's power structure directly to the monarch.

The protesters raised their hands in a three-finger salute popularised by the Hunger Games novels and films, which features the gesture being used to unite a revolution.

The salute has been an increasingly common site among pro-democracy groups in Bangkok in recent weeks and was previously adopted by the now-dissolved opposition Future Forward party in 2018.

Some 20 groups called the rally at Bangkok's Democracy Monument under the name 'Mob Fest' as the latest in a series of protests calling for significant reforms in government.

They climbed the monument on Saturday night to unfurl a giant banner scribbled with anti-government slogans and calls to reform the monarchy. 

The core demands of the main student-led protest movement are that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha step down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic, and the monarchy be reformed to be made more accountable.

The demand over the monarchy is the most controversial because the royal institution is traditionally regarded as the heart and soul of the nation, and to be treated with the utmost respect. 

In the afternoon, high school students and other pro-democracy demonstrators wrote in marker pens and spray-painted messages on giant white sheets.

'You have been stealing my bright future,' one message said. 'Democracy will win.'

Bangkok graphic designer Pearl, 25, watched as a group of protesters used ladders to climb up the three-metre (nine-foot) high central turret of the Democracy Monument, as musicians played a drum beat.

'This is a symbolic act of free speech,' she said.

It is protected by a law that makes defaming the monarch punishable by up to 15 years in prison.


In the afternoon angry high school students calling themselves the Bad Student movement rallied outside the Thailand education ministry before marching to join the main rally.

They want Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan to resign and staged a fake funeral for him.

'He has failed to reform the education system so he is dead to us,' Anna, 15, said as she put flowers into a wooden coffin, next to a picture of the minister.

The students are calling for an overhaul of the school system, curriculum, strict rules, dress codes and standardised haircuts.

Thai authorities deployed 8,000 police to patrol Saturday's protest, which is expected to go until midnight.

Police used water cannon against demonstrators at a rally last Sunday. It was only the second time such tactics were used. 

The army, a major influence in Thai politics, has declared defence of the monarchy to be one of its main duties, and many ordinary citizens also regards it with devotion.

The protest movement, however, has prioritised the issue of reforming the monarchy because it believes that the institution holds too much power and that change is the key to establishing true democracy. 

So they are undertaking their unprecedented challenge even at the risk of violent blowback from hardcore royalists.

The three-finger salute was first used in Thailand in 2014 when then-general Prayut. Prayut instituted a military coup in between the release of two Hunger Games blockbusters.

It was quickly picked up on by police, who arrested people who did the salute in public. 

Speaking in November 2014, Bangkok activist Than Rittiphan said the government cracking down so aggressively on the three-finger protest made it more widely adopted among pro-democracy supporters.

He told the BBC: 'The three-finger salute has come to represent the values of freedom, liberty and fraternity in this country. 

'We are putting it up to show we are not the object of tyranny and abuse. We will fight until our last stand, we will continue until they take life away from us.'

This article has been adapted from its original source.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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