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Thai Activists Stage Pro-Democracy Rally In Defiance Of Junta

Pro-democracy activists in Bangkok have defied the military government's ban on protests, staging a march through the Thai capital to commemorate the ninth anniversary of a coup against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that triggered an era of political instability and resulted in a second army takeover last year.

After attending a forum at Bangkok's Thammasat University, about 200 people marched peacefully to the city's Democracy Monument, carrying signs opposing the ruling junta that toppled Thaksin's sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in May 2014. Some chanted "No dictatorship."

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who led last year's coup, has cracked down on dissent, issuing public threats against journalists and opposition figures and detaining them for "attitude adjustment" sessions.

Even so, as Michael Sullivan reports from Thailand, the gathering was in theory illegal, there was no action to stop it. The Associated Press says the government allowed the forum but denied permission for the march by the protesters from the student-led New Democracy Movement (NDM). In June, the government released 14 students affiliated with the group.

The NDM has demanded a return to democratic rule, human rights and justice, which they maintain has been absent since the coup.

As The New York Times notes: "Though the gathering pales in comparison to the mass rallies that have plagued Thailand, protests have been rare since the generals overthrew the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, in a coup in May last year."

Agence France-Presse writes:

"The kingdom's ruling generals have mostly succeeded in curbing public dissent since seizing power ... by outlawing political gatherings and censoring the media.

"But while the 'Red Shirt' supporters of the Shinawatras — who have directly or through their proxies won every election since 2001 — have not massed on the streets, small yet determined rallies led by student activists have defied the regime."

The AP says: "The protest also appeared designed at least in part to embarrass the current leader, army chief-turned-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is scheduled to make an address this month at the U.N. General Assembly in New York."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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