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Turbulent Thailand

Thailand faces bigger protests against election delay

Pro-democracy rallies planned in the capital despite army warnings

An activist takes part in a Jan. 8 demonstration in Bangkok demanding elections be held on Feb. 24.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- A backlash is growing in Thailand against the military junta's apparent move to further delay elections that are supposed to restore civilian rule, with pro-democracy demonstrators planning to step up their protests in the capital this weekend.

The government had given assurances that voting would take place on Feb. 24. But in the latest suggestion that the polls could be pushed back yet again, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on Thursday said March 24 was the "most suitable date" because it would not overlap with events related to King Vajiralongkorn's coronation in early May.

Democracy activists accused the government of buying time for pro-military parties to prepare for the first elections since the military seized power in a bloodless 2014 coup.

The activists, who have staged several protests over the past week, are demanding that the elections be held no later than March 10. The group warned of bigger protests in Bangkok if the junta does not begin the necessary preparations.

This has prompted a rebuke from authorities.

"They cannot set conditions to negotiate with the government," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said of the activists, according to local media. Army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong warned protesters on Tuesday not to "cross the line," and threatened to send in security forces to maintain order.

Demonstrations against the military government last May drew a large security presence that forcibly removed protesters and detained 15 protesters. But unlike then, the junta now allows freedom of political assembly.

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