Thousands of Thai protesters marched in the capital of Bangkok Wednesday, demanding the resignation of the prime minister and clashing with pro-monarchy demonstrators.
Student protests have persisted in Thailand in recent months, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who took power in a military coup six years ago.
The student-led movement has also criticized King Maha Vajiralongkorn – a bold move in a country where insulting the monarchy can lead to criminal charges.
Marchers approached Government House, where the prime minister lives, Wednesday evening, clashing with pro-monarchy demonstrators along the way.
The Bangkok Post newspaper reported that demonstrators broke police lines outside Government House, where they intended to stage a sit-in.
Protesters outside Government House to oust Prime Minister #Prayut Chan-o-cha. #BangkokPost#Thailand#politicspic.twitter.com/ELDIKzmoh4
— Bangkok Post (@BangkokPostNews) October 14, 2020
The latest wave of protests began in February when the Future Forward Party (FFP), a progressive party largely supported by young Thais, was dissolved by court order. Protests were then halted due to COVID-19 concerns, but regained energy in July, despite a ban on large gatherings.
Thai Parliament Opens Special Session Over Protest Tensions
Thailand’s Parliament began a special session Monday that was called to address tensions as pro-democracy protests draw students and other demonstrators into the streets almost daily demanding the prime minister's resignation.
As Speaker of the House Chuan Leekpai began the session, only 450 of the total of 731 members of both houses had signed in for the meeting.
The demonstrations by student-led groups in the Bangkok and other cities have three main demands: that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha step down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic and reforms be made to the monarchy to make it more accountable.
Public criticism of the monarchy is unprecedented in a country where the royal institution has been considered sacrosanct, and royalists have denounced the protesters for raising the issue.
“The only way to a lasting solution for all sides that is fair for those on the streets as well as for the many millions who choose not to go on the streets is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process,” Prayuth said last week.
The non-voting session of Parliament is expected to last two days.
The protesters have little confidence in the parliamentary path, declaring the government’s efforts insincere.
They noted the points of discussion submitted by Prayuth’s government for debate dealt not with the protesters' concerns but were thinly disguised criticisms of the protests themselves.
They concern instead the risk of the coronavirus spreading at rallies, the alleged interference with a royal motorcade by a small crowd earlier this month, and illegal gatherings and the destruction of images of the royal family.
The protesters allege Prayuth, who led a coup in 2014 as the army chief, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters also say the constitution, written and enacted under military rule, is undemocratic.
Parliament in September was scheduled to vote on six proposed constitutional amendments but instead set up a committee to further consider such proposals, and then recessed.
Constitutional changes require a joint vote of the House and the Senate, but the proposals lack support in the Senate, whose members are not elected and are generally very conservative and hostile to the protesters.
Instead of confronting lawmakers and counter-protesters on Monday, the pro-democracy protest organizers have called for an afternoon march to the German Embassy, apparently to bring attention to the time King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends in Germany.
Germany's foreign minister, questioned in Parliament by a member of the Green Party, recently expressed concern over any political activities the king might be conducting on the country's soil.
Protesters’ criticism of the royal institution has roiled conservative Thais. Self-proclaimed “defenders of the monarchy” mobilized last week online and in rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants.
A small group of royalist demonstrators were outside Parliament on Monday morning, saying they were there to let lawmakers know of their opposition to any changes in the status of the monarchy.
Typhoon Displaces Thousands, Floods Villages in Philippines
A fast-moving typhoon forced thousands of villagers to flee to safety in provinces south of the Philippine capital Monday, flooding rural villages and ripping off roofs, officials said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from Typhoon Molave, but authorities reported at least one person was missing and seven others were rescued after their yacht sank off Batangas province south of Manila.
The typhoon has sustained winds of 125 kilometers (77 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 180 kph (112 miles) per hour and was blowing westward at 25 kph (15 mph). Molave is expected to start blowing out of the country into the South China Sea on Monday, government forecasters said.
At least 25,000 villagers were displaced with about 20,000 taking shelter in schools and government buildings which were turned into evacuation centers, according to the Office of Civil Defense.
“Villagers are now asking to be rescued because of the sudden wind which blew away roofs,” Humerlito Dolor, governor of Oriental Mindoro province, told DZMM radio.
Dolor said pounding rains overnight swamped farming villages in his province then fierce winds toppled trees and power posts early on Monday, knocking off power. Authorities were clearing roads of fallen trees and debris in some towns after the typhoon passed, he said.
More than 1,800 cargo truck drivers, workers and passengers were stranded in ports after the coast guard barred ships and ferry boats from venturing into rough seas.
About 20 typhoons and storms annually batter the Philippines, and the Southeast Asian archipelago is seismically active, with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.
Australian Anguish at Passenger Strip Searches in Qatar
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports Australia has formally complained about what it is calling the "offensive and grossly inappropriate" treatment of passengers at Doha airport in Qatar. The report says thirteen Australian women were taken off a flight to Sydney after a newborn baby was found in an airport bathroom and the travelers were forced to have invasive internal examinations.
Airport authorities say when a premature baby was discovered in a bathroom at the Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, on October 2, all female passengers onboard a flight preparing to fly to Sydney were taken off the aircraft. The group included 13 Australian women.
They were taken to two ambulances waiting outside the airport and subjected to strip searches. Some of the women have told local media they were terrified and were not told why the examinations were being carried out.
The Australian Federal Police have been informed, although it is unclear what powers investigators might have over an incident that occurred in the Middle East.
Australian foreign minister Marise Payne says Australia has formally complained to Qatar.
“We also understand the matter has been reported to the Australian Federal Police. This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events. It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter,” Payne said.
Media reports have said the Australian women could take legal action against authorities in Qatar.
Australian Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese says their treatment has been unbelievable.
“Reports of this treatment are really disturbing. The idea that women could be subject to these very intrusive searches is in my view an absolute disgrace," Albanese said.
In a statement, airport officials in Doha said the baby was “safe” and being cared for in Qatar.
They added that medical staff had expressed concern to them “about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing.”
Australian authorities have said they are expecting a report on the incident from the Qatari Government later this week.
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