Thai cabinet approves parliament session to debate protests

Thai cabinet approves parliament session to debate protests
A non-voting session of the Thai parliament will take place on October 26 and 27 (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thailand’s cabinet has approved a request to recall parliament for a special session to deal with the political pressures from ongoing anti-government protests.

The cabinet approved the request, which calls for a non-voting session on October 26 and 27, at its weekly meeting on Tuesday.

The request for the session came from House speaker Chuan Leekpai, who said on Monday that both government and opposition parties supported it. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had already said earlier that he supports the move.

There is a deadlock between the government and the student-led protesters, who want Mr Prayuth to step down, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic, and reforms to the monarchy to have it conform to democratic norms.

Thousands have gathered for the protests (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The protesters charge that Mr Prayuth, an army commander who led a 2014 coup, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party.

The protesters say a constitution written and passed under military rule is undemocratic.

But their more recent demand for checks and balances on the monarchy has deeply angered conservative Thais and broken a taboo, since the monarchy is considered sacrosanct and tough laws protecting it from insult mean its role is not usually discussed openly.

Over the past week the government has arrested protest leaders, declared a state of emergency for Bangkok that makes all rallies illegal, and tried to physically impede protest gatherings, including by closing mass transit stations.

However, when it sent riot police backed by water cannons to break up a rally in Bangkok on Friday, it drew widespread criticism for the use of force and failed to discourage the protesters, who have continued to gather in large numbers every day, with protests also spreading to other provinces.

The three-fingered salute is a common gesture among the protesters (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Two detained protest leaders were released on Tuesday but were immediately rearrested on other charges, said their lawyer Noraseth Nanongtoom.

The two, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, were initially taken into custody during an attempted overnight rally outside the prime minister’s offices on the night of October 14.

In September, parliament made its first attempt at dealing with one of the protesters’ demands when it was scheduled to vote on six proposed constitutional amendments but the vote was cancelled at the last minute as parliament voted instead to set up a committee to further consider such proposals.

Police announced on Monday that they were seeking to impose censorship on media reporting of the protests, citing what they called “distorted information” that could cause unrest and confusion in society.

They said they sought to block access to the online sites of four Thai news organisations and one activist group that broadcast live coverage of the protests.

They also proposed a ban on over-the-air digital television coverage of one broadcaster, Voice TV.

The government also confirmed that it would try to block use of the Telegram messaging app by protest groups, who announced on Sunday that they would use it for organising because they feared they might be blocked on other platforms.

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