Religion protests worry Surayud
Buddhist groups to continue their march today
Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont yesterday expressed concern that the demonstration calling for a constitutional clause recognising Buddhism as national religion could lead to chaos and rejection of the 2007 Constitution draft.
In the meeting with his advisers, Surayud said he was worried that people could be misled. He asked his advisers and rectors of universities to help make students and people correctly understand the Consti-tution draft.
The government had never opposed the idea of Buddhism as the state religion and remained neutral. It wanted the Constitution to be "a good one" and an election held as soon as possible, he said.
Meanwhile, a drafter of the 1997 Constitution, Kanin Boonsuwan, said a clause recognising Buddhism as the national religion was now "unavoidable".
Kanin said that even if the Constitution Draft is dropped by the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) or in the referendum, the clause must be included in the Constitution draft by the Council for National Security (CNS). Otherwise, demonstrations would continue and could cause chaos in society.
In the sweltering heat, proponents for Buddhism as the state religion yesterday staged a street procession to gather support for the cause.
Three hundred monks and some 400 Buddhists marched from Nakhon Pathom's Buddhamonthon religious complex to Bangkok to join their comrades in front of the Parliament.
Nine elephants joined the march, with Senator Sawet Thinnakul riding on one of them.
Police failed to persuade the demonstrators to leave the elephants behind, because of the rush hour, before they entered the city. The procession reached Parliament and joined the waiting 1,300 demonstrators at 5.30pm.
Metropolitan Police division 1 commander Maj-General Manit Wongsomboon said 150 officers from the Metropolitan Police and 50 police officers from Dusit police station with some Border Patrol police were deployed as security.
Moreover, 35 "religious inspectors" kept the monks in order, he said.
The awaiting group set up tents along both sides of U-Thong Nai Road in front of the Parliament. At 10.30am, they offered food to monks, and the monks prayed at 11.30am.
Speakers took turns to deliver speeches to support the clause. No aggressive speeches were made.
A group of foreign Buddhists, claiming to be from Australia, read a statement supporting Buddhism as the national religion.
The demonstrators dispersed at 8pm.
Thongchai Keuasakul, chairman of the network of Thai Buddhist groups - and a leader of the movement campaigning for the cause - said the demonstration will continue today from 8am.
CDA members Pichien Amnartworaprasert and Preecha Rojanasen will join a forum on the issue.
He said temples in Bangkok and adjacent provinces, as well as Wat Phra Dhammakaya and temples in the provinces, supported the demonstration. Wat Phra Dhammakaya had also given financial support, he added.
Thongchai said he would also present a petition to CDA chairman Noranit Sethabutr this morning. The group would also give handouts to each of the CDA members and ask for their support.
Thongchai yesterday released a statement saying the constitution clause regarding Buddhism as national religion would "reduce conflicts" in Thai society and restore unity.