Thai pro-democracy protesters march into army headquarters

A protester puts a rose on a riot police officer during a protest against the junta, near the army headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 24, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - More than 300 Thai pro-democracy demonstrators marched to the gates of the army headquarters in Bangkok on Saturday (March 24) to call on soldiers to withdraw their support for the ruling junta.

It was one of the biggest in a new wave of protests against corruption and the government's failure to keep to a promised election timetable.

The marchers demanded soldiers end their backing for the junta, which took power following a May 2014 coup. But the protesters also said they did not want another military takeover.

"We want a peaceful transition," Mr Rangsiman Rome, one of the protest leaders, told Reuters. "It's time for the army and all of Thai society to stop supporting the junta and side with the people."

Soldiers at the army headquarters declined to respond.

The march began at Bangkok's Thammasat University, a traditional hotbed of discontent.

Unarmed police tried to block the protesters from the street leading to the army headquarters, but gave way and allowed them through. Demonstrators burned incense at the ornate gates and set up a sound system to amplify their message.

"Those of you who are at home, join us... until we can win this war, until we get what we want," said student activist Sirawith Seritiwat, also known as Ja New.

Protesters said they wanted the junta to hold elections in November 2018 as it had promised last year.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said the vote would not happen until early 2019, the latest delay to a ballot originally planned for 2015.

Protesters have also been angered by corruption scandals, particularly an investigation into the luxury watch collection of Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, a deputy prime minister and defence minister. Last month, a public petition demanded he quit.

Gen Prawit has said he borrowed the timepieces from friends, but would resign if that was the public's wish.

"There is too much corruption. We need democracy back now,"said Mr Mike Pisek, 70, a former Thai marine.

Many of the protesters were in their 60s or 70s, even if the leaders were students.

The government has allowed recent protests to take place, but many of the leaders face charges for public order offences.

Protest leaders said they did not plan more marches until May, nearing the fourth anniversary of the 2014 coup.

The army took power saying it aimed to end months of street protests in 2013 and 2014 in Bangkok led by the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which were aimed at ousting the civilian government of then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and counter-protests by her red-shirted supporters.

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