Junta ‘fears social unrest’ over recent small protests

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - PM seeks ‘delicate’ approach in dealing with activists as memories of october 1973 invoked.

A small gathering of pro-democracy activists demonstrating over the weekend has caused major concerns for the junta regarding stability, as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed Army Commander-in-chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart to closely monitor activists and other “politically motivated” groups.
Sources close to Prayut said Chalermchai, who is also secretary-general of the National Council on Peace and Order (NCPO), which staged the 2014 coup, will also have to exercise caution in dealing with activist groups, especially those involving university students, as the situation was sensitive and delicate.
Any legal action against these groups, which have staged political rallies calling for elections this year in defiance of the NCPO’s orders, needed to be carefully weighed to avoid worsening the political climate ahead of the planned general election, which will probably take place early next year, the source said.
Saturday’s peaceful protest at Democracy Monument ended with the surrender of activist leaders, who later walked free on bail.
The groups include those led by student activists Rangsiman Rome and Sirawit Serithiwat as well as activists Ekachai Hongkangwan and Anon Nampa, all of whom had already been charged with violating the junta’s ban on political gatherings of five or more people as well as violating public assembly and sedition laws.
Those charges stemmed from their assembly near Bangkok’s MBK shopping centre on January 27, during which they demanded that the NCPO hold the long-delayed election this year as promised.
At Saturday’s demonstration near Democracy Monument, more than 200 police officers were posted at the scene. 
At Pathumwan Police Station, where the four were charged, about 200 people greeted them with a candle vigil, seeking an immediate end to prosecution for peaceful political expression.
The candles were placed in a funeral style on the poster of a clock, in an apparent taunt at Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, who has been embroiled in a scandal over his possession of luxury watches.
Another activist, Piyarat Chongthep, who brought a pickup truck equipped with speakers to the Saturday assembly, was fined Bt200 for wrongfully using speakers before being released.
Meanwhile, Rangsiman was brought from the capital late Saturday to Khon Kaen Police Station to face charges in connection with a speech he had delivered at a forum on freedom of expression and the draft Constitution at Khon Kaen University in July 2016.
Police in the Northeastern province of Khon Kaen yesterday arrested Rangsiman and let him out on Bt10,000 bail, which was granted without condition.
His participation in the forum and the content of the speech allegedly broke the law. Police told Rangsiman that he would face military prosecutors on March 23.
Rangsiman was already facing several legal proceedings. Last week he turned himself in to police in Bangkok to face charges related to his participation in a pro-election assembly last month, but was also released on bail.
Rangsiman and three other activists were released on bail at Bt100,000 per person, after they turned themselves in to police on Saturday.
Sources said the government was also closely monitoring other “politically motivated” groups, which allegedly included those led by former politicians and academics hoping to create chaos similar to what happened prior to the student uprising on October 14, 1973, which led to a notorious massacre of dozens. 
One of the former politicians associated with Pheu Thai Party, Wattana Muangsuk, is also being watched after he posted on social media that he would join the next rally,
Maj-General Piyapong Klinphun, an NCPO spokesman, said the activists had insisted on holding more activities to push the government to hold the general election by the end of this year despite legal measures taken by authorities.
More importantly, he said, authorities wanted to create a “better understanding” with the public regarding the rescheduling of the general election from late 2018 to early 2019.

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