BANGKOK - Hundreds gathered outside the United Nations' regional headquarters in Bangkok and two other locations on Wednesday (May 2) to urge Thailand's military government to end what they say is the intimidation of community activists by authorities.
The demonstration was one of the largest displays of displeasure against Thailand's unelected government in recent months. It was organised by the People's Movement for Just Society, or P-Move, a network that represents farmers, the urban poor and indigenous people who have been forced from their land.
The protest underscores growing public disgruntlement ahead of a general election that the military government has repeatedly delayed. The latest date has been set for 2019.
Thailand was rocked by often deadly, on-off street protests between 2008 and 2014. The ruling junta has clamped down on freedom of expression since a 2014 coup and has banned public gatherings, saying its actions were necessary to keep the peace ahead of the 2019 vote.
Around 900 people gathered at three locations in Bangkok's historic district on Wednesday, including outside the United Nations. Three hundred police officers were deployed to control the crowds.
Some protesters were seen laying out mats across the street from the Government House complex.
The protesters plan to stay around two weeks, said Tanadet Teenaka, deputy commander of Nang Loeng police station.
Sutharee Wannasiri, Thailand Rights Specialist at Fortify Rights, accused the military and police of intimidating members of disenfranchised communities.
"It is disturbing that the Thai military and police continue to intimidate, harass and arbitrarily detain members of affected communities who simply exercise their rights to peaceful protests," Sutharee told Reuters.
Members of P-Move have been forcibly evicted from their homes and many have lost land used for farming as a result of the current military administration, she said.
Authorities detained more than a hundred people in the northern province of Chiang Mai to prevent them from joining the Bangkok protest, P-Move said.
Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a spokesman for the government, said the government stood ready to solve problems raised by grassroots groups.
"The prime minister has urged the relevant authorities to speedily resolve problems," Sansern said.
Jamnong Nupan, one of the protest leaders, called the government insincere.
"The prime minister needs to tell us why the government can't solve our problems over the past four years," Jamnong told the crowd.
In a separate protest, more than a thousand people gathered in Chiang Mai on Sunday to protest against the building of a luxury government housing project on forested land.