Hundreds of police in Thailand block anti-government march

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Hundreds of police in Thailand on Saturday (Jan 20) blocked protesters planning to march from Bangkok to Khon Kaen in the northeast of the country in a rare display of public discontent in the junta-ruled country.

Thailand has been ruled by the military since 2014. Demonstrations have since become a rarity, partly because of junta orders banning public assembly.

The United Nations has expressed concern over what it calls a deteriorating rights situation in Thailand, including harsh sentences for those convicted of violating the lese-majeste law, known as Article 112, as well as other restrictions placed on freedom of expression.

"We want to tell the junta that you have taken Thailand back a long way. The people in the agriculture ministry are all generals. There are just generals!" said one protest leader.

"Let's hold hands! We are friends!" he said, appealing to around 200 protestors gathered at the Thammasat University in Rangsit, north of Bangkok.

The demonstration, which was broadcast live on Facebook, was shared more than 900 times and viewed by more than 32,000 times.

Sharing social media content deemed critical of the junta or royal family can land a person in jail in Thailand under its computer crimes act.

Those who joined the protest include members from various Thai civil rights groups including alternative farming, anti-mining and healthcare networks.

Around 200 police blocked a main door of the university to prevent protesters from leaving, according to police.

"This walk is a friendship walk. Over the past four years under the coup government we have no rights in terms of speech, action. We want the junta to hear us," Sangsiri Teemanka, a leader of People's Network for Welfare, told Reuters.

She added that protesters would stay put at the university until they were allowed to march.

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