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Tea Leaves

Young Thais let their funny bones do the talking

Satire and fancy dress undermine draconian laws protecting royals

A pro-democracy protester makes a three-finger salute at a demonstration in Bangkok on Oct. 25.   © Reuters

On a hot, sunny afternoon in mid-August, I stood on the sidelines of a political rally in Bangkok that had attracted a teeming crowd of teenagers and 20-somethings. Speakers of similar age shared a stage that had been set up at the base of the Democracy Monument, a tall art deco landmark in a historic quarter of the city. The focus of their ire was the government, dominated by aging generals, and the constitution, drafted by allies of the military.

The rally achieved a new level in the country's recent outpouring of discontent, which is led by disaffected university and high-school students. By one count it attracted 20,000 people. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder, bristling with anti-establishment fervor, on a broad boulevard lined with trees and European-style art-deco buildings. It was the largest anti-government rally since the 2014 military coup that brought the ruling generals to power -- the country's 13th successful military power-grab since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

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