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Thai student leader freed on bail, vows to keep up protest

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A student leader of Thailand’s anti-government movement has vowed to continue his protesting after being released on bail a day after his arrest on a sedition charge

BANGKOK — A student leader of Thailand’s anti-government movement vowed to continue his protesting after being released on bail Saturday, a day after his arrest on a sedition charge.

The arrest Friday of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak came as the government tries to deal with a wave of pro-democracy protests, mainly consisting of students who have rallied in schools and on campuses in many Thai cities.

The students are demanding the dissolution of parliament, fresh elections, a new constitution and an end to intimidation of the government’s opponents.

Parit was defiant as he spoke to a crowd of journalists and supporters after being freed by the Bangkok Criminal Court. He had been allowed to walk free on condition he did not repeat his alleged offenses.

He immediately spoke in more provocative terms than he had at the July 18 protest for which he was charged with sedition.

Parit read out a list of proposals for reforming the monarchy that was first launched at a university rally on Monday, rocking the country because public criticism of the royal institution is virtually unprecedented and traditionally taboo. It is unclear if all members of the protest movement support the proposals.

“I don’t regret being arrested because ever since joining the movement I knew it might happen, but it won’t be in vain. Everyone should have the courage to talk about the monarchy,” he said.

Mainstream media in Thailand have by and large refrained from reporting the demands about the monarchy because of their sensitivity. A strict law against defaming the monarchy carries a punishment of three to 15 years in prison, and criticism of the monarchy can also be prosecuted under several other statutes mainly covering national security.

After his release, Parit declared on his Facebook page that he would see his followers at a major rally planned for Sunday in Bangkok.

The sudden and brazen criticism of the monarchy has drawn swift reaction from the government and its conservative supporters, with many warning the students to change course. It presents Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha with the challenge of how to avoid a violent crackdown that might only draw more supporters to the protest movement.

Parit said he would not be deterred.

“There is a police unit – unit 904 – trailing me, so I am not sure about my safety,” he said. “But tomorrow there is a big rally so I needed to get bail to be out, to lead it.”

The protests have heaped pressure on Prayuth and his government at a time when the economy is struggling to cope with the huge economic impact of the coronavirus.

On Thursday, he made a televised appeal for people to unite and reject the politics of division in order to revive the economy.

Prayuth, a former army chief, came to power in a coup in 2014. He retained it in a 2019 election widely seen as so heavily rigged in his favor that victory was all but guaranteed.

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Associated Press writer Busaba Sivasomboon contributed to this report.

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