Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha expressed concern Tuesday about anti-government demonstrations that had taken place in Bangkok and other cities in recent days, and suggested parliament would address protesters’ demands.
Prayuth was publicly responding for the first time to the protests that began Saturday at Democracy Monument in the Thai capital. The prime minister said he worried that the protesters – many of them young people – might go too far and break the law.
“I’m simply concerned and worried about these demonstrations,” he said. “I told (involved officials) to be careful in handling the lads, the students. I empathize with them and I’m concerned about them on behalf of their parents,” he told reporters after a regularly scheduled cabinet meeting.
The demonstrations were led by a network of students who call themselves “Free Youth,” and whose efforts have spread to other communities. The group issued three demands: dissolve parliament; stop harassing dissidents; and amend the 2017 Constitution, which they said was tailored to enable Prayuth, the former junta chief, to maintain power.
“The three demands could be addressed in the parliament, by certain committees,” the prime minister said.
Prayuth took power in May 2014 after leading a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra following a series of protests that had rocked Bangkok for weeks. Five years later, members of parliament voted for him to remain prime minister.
Meanwhile, police Lt. Gen. Pakpong Pongpetra, chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, told reporters that a committee had been set up to investigate the rallies to determine if criminal charges should be brought against Free Youth organizers and others. The committee has not completed its investigation, he said without elaborating.
During Saturday’s protest that drew more than 2,000, Free Youth leader Tathep Ruangprapaikijseri said his group would step up rallies if demands were not met within two weeks.
The protest was followed the next day by one in northern Chiang Mai province that drew thousands more and another that drew dozens outside the Thai Royal Army Headquarters in Bangkok on Monday.
On Tuesday evening, a small group of Srinakharinwirot University students returned to the Democracy Monument to chant “Dissolve the parliament.”
Groups in Khon Kaen city along with Maha Sarakham and Phrae provinces also plan to hold rallies this week, according to organizers.
In also demanding Prayuth’s ouster, the protesters have cited mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has negatively affected the national economy.
While Thailand has recorded fewer than 3,300 COVID-19 cases and no deaths in two months, the government has maintained an emergency decree imposed in late March aimed at slowing the pandemic’s spread.
Last month, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank projected that Thailand’s gross domestic product would contract by 6.5 percent in 2020 because of the pandemic.