Protesters in Thailand carry on despite police warning

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Pro-democracy demonstrators hold posters of protest leaders who have been arrested, during an anti-government protest at Victory Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. Pro-democracy activists in Thailand launched their fifth straight days of protests on Sunday, scheduling demonstrations not just in the capital but also at several other locations around the country. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK – Thousands of mainly young Thais were back on the streets of Bangkok on Sunday for a fifth straight day of protests demanding sweeping political change, with demonstrations also taking place at several other locations around the country.

The demonstrators, who are protesting despite a state of emergency banning them from doing so, received a new warning from police that they are violating the law. On Saturday, however, few people had been arrested as peaceful rallies were held at several points around Bangkok, the capital, with several thousand taking part.

A statement issued Sunday night by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's office acknowledged the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, but insisted that people obey the law. It said Prayuth was ready to listen to the frustrations of Thai people, but that he also ordered the authorities to be vigilant for unscrupulous groups that might want to instigate violence for their own political benefit.

The protest movement — which is calling for the prime minister's resignation, a more democratic constitution and a reformed monarchy — began in March at universities around the country. After a lull due to the coronavirus crisis, it was revived in late July, building up strength, particularly in Bangkok.

On Sunday, rallies were called in at least a dozen provinces, including Chiang Mai, a popular tourist destination in northern Thailand. Social media spread the word, though the government said it would seek legal action against accounts posting details of planned protests.

The rallies in Bangkok again drew large crowds, perhaps as many as 10,000 in all, despite the official warnings and intermittent rain. Organizers declared the protests officially over at 8 p.m., though many people lingered.

“If we are together we have a better chance to win, but if we let people fight alone there will be less chance to win," a 24-year-old protester who called herself Pear said at a rally at the busy Asoke intersection, located in the commercial heart of the capital. “So we are here to express ourselves, what we are wanting and what we are expecting for the future as well."

The larger rally in Bangkok was held at Victory Monument, a popular meeting point that anchors a traffic circle on a main thoroughfare. The atmosphere there was jumpy due to occasional rumors that police had been spotted nearby.