Thai activists commemorate brutal student massacre

Funeral wreaths are arranged for the victims of the Thammasat University massacre in 1976, at the Thammasat University in Bangkok on Oct 6, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai activists on Wednesday (Oct 6) commemorated the anniversary of a brutal student massacre, splashing fake blood and laying mock bodies at the site where security forces opened fire on students 45 years ago.

The Oct 6, 1976, killings remain a dark chapter in Thailand's blood-splattered history, standing out for the brutality committed by authorities and royalist militias.

At least 46 student protesters were shot, beaten to death or hanged from trees when they gathered at Bangkok's Thammasat University to demonstrate against the return of a military dictator who was ousted just three years earlier.

No-one has ever been held accountable, and annual efforts to mark the day have in recent years been met with resistance from university authorities - this year being no different.

Wednesday's event was initially banned but allowed at the eleventh hour to proceed, drawing a couple of hundred people, including prominent opposition figures.

"When you talk about Oct 6... it's something the state, the conservative forces, the establishment want people to forget," Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a popular opposition figure whose Future Forward party was dissolved last year, told AFP.

"They want to erase this chapter out of history and pretend that this event has never occurred."

A grisly tableau was erected at Thammasat, with effigies of bodies strung up in trees and laid near the memorial site.

Since mid-2020, a pro-democracy movement has risen up to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha - a former military chief who came to power in a 2014 coup - and for reforms to the kingdom's unassailable monarchy, a once-taboo topic.

The Oct 6 killings remain a key talking point for protest leaders, who see them as a reflection of Thailand's ongoing culture of impunity for the pro-military establishment forces.

Firebrand demonstration leader Nattawut Saikuar, who has helmed several anti-government rallies in recent months, said he stood in solidarity with the survivors.

"Oct 6 was the same battle for democracy that other groups are still fighting for," he told AFP. "We are still fighting to find answers."

Survivors like Mr Sianming Saesue still remember how the day devolved into bloodshed, recounting how he was met with a volley of gunfire as he tried to divert soldiers' attention away from fleeing students.

"The injuries have made my life very difficult," the 67-year-old told AFP, pointing to the scars running down his torso.

"But mentally I'm strong. I keep telling myself I need to fight for the future of the new generation of kids and to see the country change for the better."

While anti-government rallies drew tens of thousands in 2020, fears of Covid-19 and the arrest of several key leaders have led to more tepid attendance at demonstrations this year.

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