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World 'Over our hearts': confiscated plaque becomes emblem of Thai democracy push

04:40  01 october  2020
04:40  01 october  2020 Source:   reuters.com

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Anti-government demonstrators occupying a historic field in the Thai capital on Sunday installed a plaque symbolizing the country's transition to democracy to replace the Pro- democracy protesters are seen during dawn at the Sanam Luang field during a protest in Bangkok, Thailand , Sunday, Sept.

A plaque symbolizing Thailand 's transition to democracy has been removed less than 24 hours after it was installed by anti-government demonstrators in a historic royal field. The weekend demonstrations were the largest this year by protesters who vowed to press on with calls for new elections and reform

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat

FILE PHOTO: Pro-democracy protesters attend a mass rally in Bangkok © Reuters/SOE ZEYA TUN FILE PHOTO: Pro-democracy protesters attend a mass rally in Bangkok

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Authorities removed it swiftly, but a brass plaque proclaiming Thailand belongs to the people and not the king has rapidly become the emblem of a pro-democracy protest movement - appearing everywhere from t-shirts to key rings to tattoos.

a bag of luggage: Phone cases printed with a plaque declaring © Reuters/JIRAPORN KUHAKAN Phone cases printed with a plaque declaring "This country belongs to the people" are seen at a shop in Nonthaburi province

The 11-inch (28 cm) plaque was removed in darkness less than a day after activists cemented it near Bangkok's Grand Palace last week, demanding reforms to curb the powerful monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, until recently a taboo subject.

Thailand: removal of the "People's plaque" placed by the demonstrators near the Grand Palace

 Thailand: removal of the © Supplied by Le Point A plaque placed by pro-democracy demonstrators near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, indicating that Thailand belongs to the people and not to the king, was withdrawn the day after a great weekend of demonstrations calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister and a reform of the monarchy. "I heard that she was kidnapped. We are investigating" to find out under what circumstances and by whom, Piya Tawichai, the deputy chief of police, said on Monday.

While Thailand has escaped the brunt of the pandemic, it has been pummeled economically, and millions are out of work. With Prayuth Chan-ocha, the retired general who choreographed the last coup, still leading the country as prime minister, Thais have intensified calls for a new political order.

The ongoing 2020 Thai protests are a series of protests against the government of Prayut Chan-o-cha which have included demands for reform of the Thai monarchy.

a group of gold coins: Keychains, made according to the design of protesters' plaque declaring © Reuters/PATPICHA TANAKASEMPIPAT Keychains, made according to the design of protesters' plaque declaring "This country belongs to the people", are seen in Bangkok

But reproductions of the plaque, featuring the three-finger salute used by Thai anti-junta activists since a 2014 coup, have since proliferated.

"If you thought you could just make the plaque disappear, you were wrong," said Anchalee Suebsang-in, 27, an office worker who posted t-shirt designs featuring the plaque on a Facebook page within hours of hearing it had gone. She soon had over 1,000 orders.

"It can still appear anywhere, like on T-shirts, right over our hearts," Anchalee told Reuters.

The plaque reads "...this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch as they have deceived us."

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FILE PHOTO: Combination picture shows a plaque declaring © Reuters/REUTERS PHOTOGRAPHER FILE PHOTO: Combination picture shows a plaque declaring "This country belongs to the people" placed during a mass rally and the same place after the plaque was removed in Bangkok

It resembles another plaque commemorating the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 that was removed from outside a royal palace in 2017.

The palace did not comment on the plaque and has made no comment on more than two months of anti-government protests.

Some protesters want to reduce the king's powers and control over palace finances and key army units along with the broader protest movement's goals of removing former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister and drawing up a new constitution.

a group of people posing for the camera: Members of Youth & Direct Democracy group pose with printed t-shirts of protesters' plaque declaring © Reuters/JIRAPORN KUHAKAN Members of Youth & Direct Democracy group pose with printed t-shirts of protesters' plaque declaring "This country belongs to the people" in Pathum Thani province

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri declined to comment on the merchandise with plaque designs.

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The national emblem of Thailand ( Thai : ตราแผ่นดินของไทย) is called the Phra Khrut Pha (RTGS transcription; พระครุฑพ่าห์; "Garuda as the vehicle" (of Vishnu)). The Garuda was officially adopted as the national emblem by Vajiravudh (Rama VI) in 1911.

And as Rome cracked its whip over our land, mercilessly annihilating every genuine manifestation of our own nature, our wise forebears wove into these tales, using colorful symbols and allegory, a legacy of our heritage. But Rome's influence extended over our tales and sagas, falsifying them, giving them

Anchalee sold each T-shirt for 247.50 baht, a nod to the year 1932 - or 2475 in the Buddhist Era calendar.

Smaller trinkets like keychains go for 112 baht, referring to Section 112 of the criminal code that prohibits insulting the king and which the protesters want scrapped.

ROYAL FIELD

The plaque, placed on the area next to the palace known as Sanam Luang - the Royal Field - was the work of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD) protest group. They declined to identify a specific artist.

Even before the plaque was removed, they published digital files on the internet so anyone could reproduce it.

"The plaque wasn't just planted on Sanam Luang, but also in the hearts of the people, so it's no surprise that it would reappear everywhere," UFTD leader Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak told Reuters.

Thai activists in Germany placed a replica plaque outside the king's residence there.

Sellers said they would donate the profits to the UFTD protest group, while some would also contribute a separate fund set up to help pay expected legal expenses. Several leaders have already been charged over earlier protests.

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The protesters challenge Prayuth's legitimacy, saying elections last year were engineered to keep him in power. He says they were democratic.

The plaque has not only reappeared in physical form. It is available as Instagram filters that allow users to place it anywhere.

"They tried to censor history and take it away from the people, but they can't catch up with us," said game design student Tarathorn Boonngamanong, 22, whose filters have been viewed more than 4 million times.

The proliferation of the plaque reflected the scale of the challenge to the monarchy as taboos were broken by protesters, said James Buchanan, a lecturer at Bangkok's Mahidol University International College.

"They feel like they're taking the first steps towards really challenging or limiting the power of the monarchy," he told Reuters.

For Mai and Berm, two friends who have sold over 2,500 plaque key chains on Facebook, the plaque symbolises a promise for change.

"We can't achieve that now, but it shows that we're determined to get there," said Mai, 24, declining to give his full name due to fears of reprisal.

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Jane Wardell)

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