PROTEST AGAINST COUP
Junta 'curbing liberties'
Demonstrators demand end to martial law as police stop people joining rally
Rights activists yesterday condemned junta "harassment" of anti-coup protesters who were prevented from travelling to Bangkok to join a demonstration at Sanam Luang.
"This action is the most concrete evidence yet of junta curbs on people's rights and liberties," September 19 Network Against the Coup organiser Chotisak Onsoong told The Nation.
"It reveals both the junta's dictatorial nature and the fact it's afraid of people power.
"The junta says a poll shows it has 80-per-cent support. If that's so, it doesn't need to worry. But I don't think that's true."
Some 1,000 people gathered at Sanam Luang in the afternoon before marching to Democracy Monument to mark Constitution Day and World Human Rights Day. There, numbers swelled to about 3,000 in the evening. Candles were lit as darkness fell.
There was a large police and military presence.
Protesters shouted "CNS, get out. CNS, get out". The CNS is the Council for National Security - the group of military leaders who overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra in September.
The demonstration was reminiscent of rallies ahead of Thaksin's downfall when the catch call was "Thaksin, get out".
Demonstrators demanded the immediate lifting of martial law throughout the country.
There was traffic congestion near the monument as leaders addressed marchers from the rear of a lorry. A stage occupied two lanes near the monument.
Organisers promised Sanam Luang rallies every Sunday from now.
A 40-year-old Bangkok housewife identified as Kaew said she and her family marched because they disagreed with limits on freedoms and martial law.
Buri Ram police intercepted and detained 41 men dressed in black who were heading for yesterday's Bangkok demonstration.
They were taken to a police
station where their details were taken. They were then encouraged not to attend the demonstration. Four vehicles were confiscated.
Thailand has been without a constitution since the junta nullified the 1997 charter - known as the People's Constitution - following the September coup.
Half a dozen other groups, including the Confederation for Democracy, joined the network rally.
Demonstrators carried posters and banners condemning the junta. Many wore black shirts and armbands.
"Does the military belong to the nation or the nation belong to the military?" was one demonstration slogan. Another read: "People's war has begun - recruit your men and wait for the right opportunity."
"If people have no right to wear black or travel freely, then it's worse than a communist state," said former senator Prateep Ungsongtham Hata, a key member of the confederation, which has united with the network.
"If you want democracy, you must create a democratic climate. That's not what we've got. Why bring 1,800 soldiers on to the streets or move the third Army to Bangkok to control the people? What for? This is not a democracy," said confederation chairperson Weng Tojirakarnsaid.
Protesters addressed the crowd before the march to Democracy Monument at 6.30pm.
Members of the news media and academics who had accepted appointments to the National Legislative Assembly were criticised in speeches.
"These are people who help and serve dictators, the goons who rob us of democracy," network member and former student leader Pongsathon Sornpetnarin said.
"They're not just dragging us back into the past but into the dark ages."
Demonstrators dispersed at about 8.30pm.
In a related development, an Assembly of the Poor statement condemned police harassment of dozens of villagers who had met to discuss problems in Si Sa Ket. The villagers were questioned and had their details taken.
"Politics of the poor have been denied and the right to bargain with the state to solve problems has been eradicated," yesterday's statement said.
"The smoke of martial law is still smouldering in the rural provinces and it's full of the suppression of rights and liberty."
The assembly urged the government to accept the right of the poor to congregate to discuss concerns of the group.
The plight of the poor must be "considered part of political reform", the statement said.