Tag Archives: pro-democracy

Protesters continue to defy the junta

(updated 19th Oct)

Since Generalissimo Prayut announced emergency powers banning demonstrations and after the paramilitary riot police used chemical water cannon on crowds, protesters have continued to gather in their thousands to call for his resignation. The use of water cannon against young school students angered many ordinary people, thus swelling the protests.

On Saturday, because the junta ordered the closure of all mass transit train lines in a futile attempt to stop the protests, demonstrators assembled at different spots in Bangkok. Large demonstrations also took place in lots of provincial cities, mainly on university campuses. The protests are now involving hundreds of thousands of people up and down the country.

Chiang Rai campus

At Lard Prao, in Bangkok, where on of the largest protest took place, tens of thousands of defiant protesters assembled. The organisers managed to get a truck load of crash helmets, masks and raincoats distributed to the crowd in case the police attacked. In the event they decided to disperse by 8pm without the feared attack happening.

Lard Prao

Reports from many areas tell of the impressive organisation managed by rank and file activists. Some of the key activists had been arrested in previous days, but this seems to have had little effect. This shows the strength of the movement.

On the 18th October protests were again held in many locations in Bangkok and provincial cities.

Protesters demand release of political prisoners

One worker activist reported that at Rungsit, a primary school student asked to make a speech!

There were also reports of thousands of factory workers protesting in Chonbury, along the Eastern Seaboard industrial area (see below). The Rungsit protest was also made up of some factory workers.

Ladprao in Bangkok 19 Oct 2020

The success of the protests are an important and clear symbolic victory. But the struggle will be long and hard. Prayut and his gang of military thugs are not about to go easily. They have spent the years since their coup in 2014 putting in place measures to maintain their power, including writing a constitution, appointing the senate, designing the National Strategy and fixing last year’s elections. They already have blood on their hand from the murder of pro-democracy redshirts ten years ago and the use of death squads against dissidents.

Marching along Sukumwit Road

The movement is at a junction. Organising flash mobs over and over again risks tiring out protesters and these actions are not enough to make the country ungovernable. Either they move forward to organise more militant and powerful action such as strikes, or the momentum will be lost. Given the level of public support for the protests it is important to seize the moment and try to build for workplace stoppages.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Mass movement against junta makes huge strides forward

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

How did it start? The reasons why students started to revive the pro-democracy protests are that this new generation have seen that pushing for reforms within the parliamentary system has not worked. Opposition parties and politicians have been cut down by the military controlled courts. The junta were and still are blatantly using Covid as an excuse to try to ban protests. Anyone who speaks out is being intimidated by security officers and political exiles in neighbouring countries have been murdered by military death squads. The economy is a mess and youth see little to be hopeful for the future. In fact they share these feelings of anger and frustration with over half the adult population who voted against the military party in the last flawed elections. The difference is that the youth do not share the fear which is common among older activists who have been through military crack-downs.

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It is not just university students. Secondary school students, often from more elite schools are joining in. LGBT activists have also taken part as open LGBT activists against the junta.

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Secondary school students against the dictatorship

It is best to see the continuum of the pro-democracy social movement from after the 2006 coup with different groups popping up to take the lead. The youth are now taking the lead. [See “Role of Thai Social Movements in Democratisation” https://bit.ly/2aDzest ].

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Protesters at the Democracy Monument use the pro-democracy 3 finger salute, borrowed from Hunger Games

So far the most significant development is the establishment of the organisation “Free People”. The aim is to expand the movement to ordinary working people beyond students and youth. It has 3 major demands: stop intimidating activists, re-write the constitution and dissolve parliament. People are fed up with the fixed elections, the appointed senators and the military designed “Guided Democracy” system in general. [See Guided Democracy after the Flawed 2019 Election https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI  ].

Since the activist lawyer Anon Numpa stood up and raised a number of criticisms of king Wachiralongkorn, the underlying anger about the behaviour and arrogance of the new idiot king has come out into the open. People are angry about laws which prevent the monarchy being subjected to criticism and accountability. They are angry that he spends his time with his harem in Germany and changed the constitution to allow him to do this more easily. They are angry that he changed the constitution to bring all wealth associated with the monarchy under his centralised control. The extra demands from the Thammasart University mass protest on 10th August reflect a feeling that the monarchy should be reformed and its privileges cut back. These developments are to be welcomed.

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Thammasart University protest 10th August 2020

Some political exiles abroad encourage the view that Thailand is an “Absolute Monarchy”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The movement should not over-estimate the power of the king. He has very little power and is a willing tool of the military and the conservatives, more so even than his weak father. Therefore suggestions that boycotting royal degree ceremonies would be enough to topple the regime are diversions. [See: “Absolutism” https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ and Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad? https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv ].

Although the much welcomed criticism of the monarchy can weaken the junta and hasten the long over-due day that Thailand becomes a republic, the military and its parliamentary dictatorship remain the main enemy of Thai democracy and a strong mass movement to topple the military still needs to be built. Workers need to be involved. Events after the Second World War show that Thai military dictatorships can hold power without using the monarchy. We need a socialist republic in Thailand.

 

Open criticism of King Wachiralongkorn increases, activists arrested but protests grow (see updates)

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently, the human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist Anon Numpa, addressed an anti-junta rally of young people and made open criticism of the idiot king Wachiralongkorn. He was dressed as Harry Potter, just to make the event more humorous. However, the content of his speech was deadly serious.

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Anon Numpa

Anon criticised Wachiralongkorn’s habit of living abroad in Germany and using huge amounts of public funds for his personal use. According to Anon, Wachiralongkorn has also massively increased his power. However, as followers of this blog know, this latter view is not one which I share. [See Wachiralongkorn’s power https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL   Absolutism https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ  Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv ]

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Such open criticism of Wachiralongkorn is to be welcomed and Anon Numpa has shown great courage in doing this. There will be top state officials, especially military officers, and rabid royalists among the public, who will want to persecute or prosecute Anon for his statements. It is important that as many people as possible in Thailand show him solidarity by also discussing the issue of the monarchy openly and in public. This will make it more difficult for the state to attack Anon.

In reality one of the important issues that has helped spark the latest round of youth protests against the military junta in Thailand has been the behaviour of Wachiralongkorn and this can be seen in many of the placards on the demonstrations.

Anon Numpa’s statement was couched in royalist and nationalist language. This was an attempt to protect himself. He said that he was criticising the monarchy in order to defend it. But it is doubtful that this will be enough to stop attacks on him by the state and the royalists.

One unfortunate aspect of Anon’s speech was the use of the word “Farang-Mungka”, a derogatory and racist word used to describe Westerners. In an era of Black Lives Matter protests, pro-democracy activists in Thailand need to be more aware about their racism.

If the increasing anti-monarchy feeling can be encouraged, it will weaken the military, who use the weak-willed monarch as a political tool. It will also help to make a republic more likely. However, we must never forget that republics can also be oppressive and just after the Second World War Thailand was rule by an anti-monarchist military dictatorship in the shape of Field Marshall Pibun.

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The military and its parliamentary dictatorship remain the main enemy of Thai democracy.

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It is encouraging that the youth groups who have been protesting against the parliamentary dictatorship run by the military have now officially stated that they want to expand their network beyond students and young people to include adults. Hopefully this will facilitate expansion of the movement into the working class.

[THAILAND IS RULED BY A PARLIAMENTARY DICTATORSHIP RUN BY THE MILITARY https://bit.ly/3731MIZ ]

LATEST (7th Aug 2020) Anon Numpa served with arrest warrant.

Anon Numpa and student activist Panupong Jadnok were arrested on 7th August 2020 and charged with a number of so-called “offenses” relating to peaceful anti-junta demonstrations. Other protest organisers were also served with warrants.

The authorities are trying not to draw attention to Anon’s comments about the monarchy, but the charges against him are serious.

At some point later in the day, Anon and Panupong were dragged off to police detention.

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Anon being dragged by police (picture from BBC)

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Anon and Panupong

Crowds gathered outside the court and the police station and a “flash-mob” protest at the Sky-walk was organised the next day.

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Later on the 8th August, Anon and Panupong were released on bail.

It is vital that more and bigger anti-junta protests are held in order to keep up the pro-democracy momentum.

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picture from “Reporters”

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10th August: Over 5000 protesters at Thammasart University demand key reforms to the monarchy including the right to criticise and the down-sizing of the king’s privileges.

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Youngsters need to inject their anger and enthusiasm into the working class

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Young people in Thailand have risen up against the “parliamentary dictatorship” of Generalissimo Prayut in a show of defiance in all the major provinces. As with the mass protests against racism, climate catastrophe and oppression around the world, the Thai university and secondary school students have been fearless in the face of the dictatorship’s emergency laws. These laws were enacted after the emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic, but are being used to extend the powers of the dictatorship. This is one of the issues that has made young people angry.

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Protesters at the Democracy Monument use the pro-democracy 3 finger salute, borrowed from Hunger Games

Other issues causing anger and discontent are the dissolution of the opposition Future Forward Party, under false pretences of using the election law, the economic hardship caused by Covid, the continued harassment of dissidents, the manipulation of 2019 elections and the continued military dictatorship. Earlier this month, one dissident was arrested for wearing a T-shirt stating that he “no longer had any respect for the monarchy”. He was then sent to a mental institution. This has angered thousands of people. The behaviour of the present idiot-playboy King Wachiralongkorn has also caused anger which has overcome fear. [See https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv , https://bit.ly/2OUjN3N ].

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The use of military death squads to eliminate dissidents sheltering in Cambodia and Lao has also caused anger. [See https://bit.ly/2CPrVQy ].

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The protesters are demanding that the government resign, a new constitution be written and fresh elections held. A new constitution is necessary because the present one was written by the military junta to ensure its continued power. It stipulates that the senate is appointed by the military; another bone of contention among the protesters.

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These latest protests are part of a continued opposition to the destruction of democracy since 2006. Like all mass movements there have been lows and highs, depending on the political atmosphere, the state of the leadership and the level of repression. The destruction of the pro-democracy “Red Shirts” was enabled through shooting protesters and deliberate retreats by the leadership. One of the former red shirt leaders, Jatuporn Prompan, has shown his conservatism by urging the students not to criticise the monarchy. Luckily the students are unlikely to listen to him.

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The protests that greeted the 2014 Prayut coup were ground down by arrests and prosecutions by the junta, including the use of “attitude changing detentions”.

Key activists in the present protest movement have links to the best key activists from protests over the last decade. A Marxist “big picture” view of social movements describes various movements from below as just one big social movement with many arms and legs, constantly changing through time and always linked to international movements. This “social movement” is constantly battling against “the system” which is controlled by the ruling class. [See Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky & Alf Gunvald Nilsen (Eds) Marxism and Social Movements. Haymarket Books, Chicago, IL. 2014]. For the situation in Thailand see https://bit.ly/2aDzest.

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Secondary school students against the dictatorship

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The present wave of protests is led by new, younger students who do not carry the baggage of fear and repression from the past. The lessons from throughout the world, and from Thailand’s own history, point to the urgent need for today’s youngsters to get more organised and inject their enthusiasm and lack of fear into the trade union movement and the working class in general. If they do this, they will find a willing audience of people who are utterly fed up with the present junta but lack the confidence to come out and fight. The 14th October 1973 uprising against a previous military dictatorship was successful when thousands of ordinary working people joined the students on the streets of Bangkok.

[All photos from Prachatai web newspaper]

Further reading:

Guided Democracy after the Flawed 2019 Election https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI

Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy (2010).  http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs

 

A long time coming

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Saturday’s brilliant demonstration around the “Sky Walk” at Patumwan junction in Bangkok marked what could be a new beginning for the Thai democracy movement. Over three thousand people assembled to protests against Thai dictator Generalissimo Prayut Chan-Ocha, who heads a parliamentary dictatorship. Another modest protest took place in the northern city of Chiang Mai. These protests are the first protests to occur since the election.

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Bangkok

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Chiang Mai

Prayut staged a military coup against the elected government of Yingluk Shinawat in 2014. A military junta then ruled Thailand until so-called elections were eventually held in early 2019. These elections were highly flawed, with military appointees in the Election Commission, Constitutional Court and the unelected Senate, ensuring that the unelected General Prayut became Prime Minister, despite the fact that his party won less votes and parliamentary seats than the opposition.

Before the election, the Constitutional Court dissolved one opposition party under the excuse that it had put forward a member of the royal family as its candidate for Prime Minister.

After the election, the military appointed courts disqualified Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, from being a member of parliament. The excuse was an unsubstantiated accusation that he owned shares in a media company. Thanathorn denied this and explained that he had got rid of the shares before the election.

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Now the parliamentary dictatorship is trying to disband the entire Future Forward Party under the ridiculous excuse that the party borrowed funds from Thanathorn. Most legal experts are of the opinion that this does not break the law.

This latest threat to the most assertive anti-military party in parliament was the last straw for Thanathorn. He made a public call for what he called a “flash mob” to come together on Saturday 14th December. He then addressed thousands of protesters, who were chanting anti-dictatorship slogans, saying that future protests would be called.

Previously the Future Forward Party leadership had been very cautious, sticking to the political rules for the election which were drafted by the junta. They specifically rejected any campaign against the draconian lèse majesté law which has been used to imprison those critical of the military and the monarchy. This law, together with the “Computer Crimes Law” is the junta’s weapon against free speech. Recently the junta have been using the “Computer Crimes Law” instead of the lèse majesté law in an attempt to improve its image. However, the result is the same: a denial of free speech.

The Thai monarchy has long been used as a political tool by the military. The military always claims to be protecting the monarchy like a holy deity. Any criticism of the military is deemed to be also against the monarchy. The monarchy has little power in itself, and this is even more the case with the new king, who cares little about politics and society and chooses to live a debauched life in Germany.

The “Future Forward Party” has a clear policy of reducing the power and influence of the military by scrapping the military constitution and other junta inspired laws. It is also opposed to conscription. It has been busy pushing its “new look” and claim to be the party of the new generation. However, it is a party aimed at sections of the pro-democracy middle classes. It prioritises the free-market and business interests while also claiming to support the poor in an abstract manner. Its leader, tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, stated that it aims to “protect capitalism for the benefit of the majority”. In the past he emphasised that business must make a profit before benefits for workers can be improved. It is in favour of devolving power to the provinces and has made progressive sounds about self-determination in Muslim-Malay dominated Patani.

The other main opposition party in parliament is the Taksin Shinawat controlled Pua Thai Party. It has a long pedigree of being supported by the rural poor and urban workers. But it is a party of big business. Taksin’s first party, Thai Rak Thai, brought in the first ever universal health care scheme and other pro-poor policies. Four Taksin-dominated elected governments were overthrown, either by the military or the pro-military judiciary in a number of coups beginning in 2006. These coups helped to create the political crisis and the sharp divisions in Thai society which remain today. The military and the conservative elites and middle classes hated the Taksin governments because they started to redistribute wealth to workers and farmers in order to build a modernised society which would benefit big business. They resented the fact that the majority of citizens supported these parties in elections and they have been continuously trying to use various undemocratic methods to make sure that the conservatives can hold power after elections.

A decade ago, supporters of Taksin Shinawat and his political allies built a huge pro-democracy mass movement called the Red Shirts. The military responded by shooting down unarmed protesters in the streets. Yet this did not destroy the movement. However, by 2014 Taksin and his political allies had successfully demobilised the Red Shirts, hoping to do a deal with the conservatives.

Since then, many people have turned their backs on the idea of building mass social movements, claiming that it cannot be done and would result in a blood-bath. The recent protest called by Thanathorn disproves this.

Until recently the Future Forward Party had rejected the idea of building a mass movement on the streets. Yet, Thai and international History shows us that mass social movements are vital to bringing down dictatorships.

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The change of heart in the Future Forward Party and the call for more protests against the parliamentary dictatorship is to be welcomed. But pro-democracy activists cannot just rely on people like Thanathorn to build the necessary movement to overthrow the military. Independent activists, not allied to main stream political parties, especially those among the trade unions and among students, need to step forward and help build the movement.

Thai Junta’s continuing repression shows they have no plans for democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The manner in which the military junta has treated the protests by the “People Who Want Elections” on the 4th anniversary of the military coup shows that they have no intention of restoring real democracy.

Before the planned protests soldiers and police were sent to activists houses as a crude form of intimidation. The parents of student leaders were told to rein-in their children. Trade unionists were also paid nasty visits at home. Road blocks were set up on approaches to Bangkok in order to deter people travelling from the countryside. The police lied that they were trying to look for weapons. The vehicle number plates of activists were placed on a black list. The person that provided the sound system for the protest was taken off to a military camp for an attitude changing session.

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security forces pay a visit to someone’s home to intimidate them

The anti-junta protest assembled at Thammasat University. Previously the university authorities, working hand in glove with the junta as usual, closed the football pitch, claiming they needed to destroy weeds!

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photo from BBC

Initially the police would not allow the protest to leave the university, but some people managed to evade police lines and get as far as the UN building where they read out a proclamation. The protest leaders were informed by police that they had broken “the law”. They then gave themselves up to the police and were detained for two nights in police stations before being taken to court.

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Visits to activist’s homes take place on a regular basis and some are followed around where ever they go. Soldiers deem it that they have a right to enter buildings and attend seminars and meetings without asking permission. There isn’t a single Thai-based pro-democracy activist who isn’t facing some charge or other.

A few days ago prominent members of Pua Thai Party, including junta critics Chaturon Chaisang and Watana Muangsook, were summoned by the police because they had given a press conference demanding an end to the junta. They were given a warning and released. At any time the junta could ban them from taking part in future elections or even order the dissolution of the party. Many believe that Pua Thai would win substantial numbers of votes in a future election.

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Chaturon Chaisang

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Watana Muangsuk

All this gives the lie to the junta’s laughable claim to “respect human rights” or to have a “road map” towards holding free and fair elections.

The latest rant by Generalissimo Prayut seeks to confirm that elections will be held in Thailand in early 2019. Election dates have been announced before and the junta’s record is littered with broken promises and bare-faced lies. However, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the junta cannot carry on ruling as it does now for the next decade. The junta understand that they need to create the image of restoring democracy and holding elections. Otherwise popular opposition to the junta will increase and at some point they will be overthrown, a fate which befell most previous Thai military regimes.

The junta’s plan is to set its rules in concrete under the National Strategy and to place all its appointees in powerful positions in the Senate and the judiciary before elections are held. They have already forced through a military-inspired constitution. All this is in order to fix election rules, censor manifestoes of political parties and tie the hands of future elected governments to junta approved policies for the next 20 years. In addition they may even set up an “army party” with the hope of transforming Prayut into an “elected Prime Minister”, much like what happened in Egypt.

A number of political parties, including Pua Thai Party, Future Forward Party and the Commoners Party have stated that they would scrap the military constitution if they win enough seats in parliament. But without a mass movement on the streets to back them up this “illegal act”, according to the junta’s rules, cannot be achieved as it will be sabotaged by the Senate and the judiciary. Unfortunately none of these parties seems interested in building a mass social movement to fight for democracy. This is another reason why we need a genuine left party allied to workers.

[One photo in the featured image is from the BBC]

Students call on people to rise up and oppose the junta

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On the anniversary of the 24th June 1932 revolution which toppled the Absolute Monarchy, groups of pro-democracy students have defied the illegal military junta and staged protests outside a Bangkok police station. They did this in order to defy the police warrant for their arrest because they refused to report to the police over their peaceful protests on the first anniversary of General Prayut’s May 2014 coup d’état.

students at Patum Wan police station (from Prachatai)
students at Patum Wan police station (from Prachatai)

Students and their supporters, along with many reporters, gathered outside Patum Wan police station, near Chulalongkorn University. They read out a declaration calling on people to join them and rise up and oppose the junta. They also accused the police of using violence against them in order to break up their peaceful protest in May.

The military spokes-person for the junta accused the students of being “trouble makers with a hidden agenda”. Fighting for democracy in the open and on the streets can hardly be classified as a hidden agenda, nor can the military’s wilful destruction of democracy! On previous occasions military loud-mouths have accused the students of “being too young to understand politics and democracy”.

spokesman of the illegal junta
spokesman of the illegal junta

Meanwhile the military still calls people in for “attitude-changes”. The latest case is that of people from a north-eastern women’s group who dared to make merit at a temple on former elected Prime Minister Yingluk’s birthday.

celebrating the 1932 revolution (from Prachatai)
celebrating the 1932 revolution (from Prachatai)

 

Also on 24th June this year, at the metal plaque commemorating the 1932 revolution, a group of activists laid flowers as a symbol of democracy.

Fat-head general Prawit
Fat-head general Prawit

 

Meanwhile Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Fat-head General Prawit tried to claim that the military junta was “protecting the tradition of the Peoples’ Party Revolution” because it was “building and protecting democracy”. From somewhere around his hindquarters, he was heard to exclaim that the government was “not a dictatorship”. … Perhaps he is too old, too stupid and too military to understand politics and democracy?

Anti-junta rumblings among students

University students in Thailand have continued to show their opposition to the military junta and the destruction of democracy.

Last weekend Thammasart students defied the military, police and university authorities to show mass opposition to the junta at a football match, despite strange men with military-style hair cuts mingling with the crowds, pretending to be students. This week the military have set up check points on the Rungsit campus.

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At Chulalongkorn University, Prachom-Klao Technical University in North Bangkok, Chiang Mai University and Burapa University near Pattaya, anti-dictatorship posters have also appeared.

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The struggle for democracy lives on!!