A large protest against Thailand’s military-backed government on Sunday saw thousands join the “Run Against Dictatorship” in Bangkok, with some runners also showing the three-finger salute made popular by the Hunger Games movies.
Protesters gathered at a public park for an anti-government run early on Sunday, with Thai billionaire and opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit leading the event.
Organizers said over 10,000 people registered to join the “Run Against Dictatorship,” marking what appeared to be the biggest anti-government protest since the 2014 military coup, which saw the current Prime Minister and then-army chief Prayut Chan-ocha seize power.
“I want a government that takes care of the people and spends money on our well-being and the environment instead of buying tanks and submarines,” one of the runners said.
Protesters chanted “Get out, Prayut” and “Long live democracy.” Before running the 2.6-kilometer (1.6-mile) course, many of the protesters also flashed the three-finger salute inspired by the Hunger Games dystopian franchise.
Prayut managed to hold on to power after the 2019 election that the opposition believes was manipulated. The former junta leader is backed by the country’s powerful military, and the government is often accused of wielding the country’s draconian lese majeste laws as a weapon against political opponents.
The anti-military party Future Forward, headed by the opposition leader Thanathorn, is currently facing a threat of dissolution for allegedly attempting to overthrow the nation’s constitutional monarchy. Thanathorn has been stripped of his lawmaker status and is facing various charges.
The 41-year-old billionaire, however, still enjoys a rock star status among his supporters.
“You can feel the anger of the people and their disappointment over the government,” the billionaire told AFP news agency before the race. “I think this is the first step to general change in Thailand.”
Originally, the Sunday run was billed as a “Run to Oust the Uncle” in reference to Prayat’s nickname, “Uncle Tu.”
Pro-government activists staged a rival event to the Sunday run in a different Bangkok park, dubbing it “Walk to Support Uncle.” While smaller, the walk still drew in thousands of mostly elderly Prayat supporters, reflecting a generational gap in Thai society.
“We love our country, we love a government which can provide security to our country,” one of the participants told the AFP.