Thai school 'Hunger Games' salute protests spread

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE - -AFP

BANGKOK: Pupils at more than a dozen Thai high schools raised three-fin­ger "Hunger Games" salutes dur­ing the na­tional an­them on Tues­day in a sign of spread­ing sup­port for stu­dent-led anti-govern­ment protests. Demon­stra­tions that be­gan on uni­ver­sity cam­puses have taken place al­most daily since mid-July in an in­creas­ing chal­lenge to the rul­ing estab­lish­ment in the South­east Asian coun­try that has long been dom­i­nated by the army and the monar­chy. High school protests dur­ing morn­ing as­sem­blies be­gan in at least eight schools on Mon­day. The three-fin­ger salute has been a sym­bol of calls for democ­racy since Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha first took power in a 2014 coup.

Some stu­dents also wore white rib­bons to show their sup­port for pro­test­ers, who seek Prayuth's de­par­ture, a new con­sti­tu­tion and an end to the ha­rass­ment of ac­tivists. Some stu­dents have also called for re­forms to the monar­chy, once a taboo sub­ject. "I want to show that I don't like dic­ta­tor­ship and want true democ­racy," said one 17-yearold stu­dent who joined the protest at a govern­ment school on Mon­day and said she did not want to be named for fear of reprisals after pres­sure from teach­ers. The school did not re­spond to a Reuters re­quest for com­ment.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Nat­aphol Teep­suwan said at an ed­u­ca­tional fair in Bangkok on Mon­day that the stu­dents had the right to ex­press them­selves and should not be pun­ished, but also warned that there was a limit to how far they should go. Prayuth told re­porters he was will­ing to lis­ten to the stu­dents but ques­tioned the mo­tives of some.

"I heard from some stu­dents that those that don't want to take part in these ac­tions gets bul­lied into do­ing it," he said. Pro­test­ers ac­cuse Prayuth of hold­ing on to power un­fairly after elec­tions last year un­der rules drawn up his junta. He says the elec­tions were fair. Apart from the po­lit­i­cal de­mands, some pupils com­plain of a school sys­tem which em­pha­sises obe­di­ence and tra­di­tion, from lin­ing up daily for the na­tional an­them to strict rules on uni­forms, hair­cuts and be­hav­iour.

Videos shared on so­cial me­dia show some teach­ers try­ing to stop stu­dents from giv­ing the salutes, but in other schools teach­ers have joined in rais­ing their hands. In­creas­ing sup­port for the protest move­ment was ev­i­dent in Bangkok on Sun­day when more than 10,000 peo­ple joined the big­gest demon­stra­tion for years.

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