Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha appealed for unity in a televised address to the nation on Thursday (13 August) amid almost daily student-led anti-government protests since mid-July.
Demonstrators are calling for the resignation of Prayuth, who first took power in a 2014 coup, and an end to the military domination of politics.
“I am now appealing to every Thai citizen, reaching out to you directly to please say no to the politics of hate and division and to the politics that spreads the disease of tribalism of belief versus belief, or young versus old, or rich versus poor,” Prayuth said.
“The future belongs to the young… let the young lead the way and provide the moral leadership to show us all how to take the hard path of collaboration with people who may disagree with us during times of national hardship.”
Prayuth earlier said anti-government student protests could face more legal action, adding that authorities should investigate anyone “behind the protests”.
So far, two organisers of the anti-government movement have been arrested on charges of violating emergency coronavirus bans on large gatherings. Human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, 35, and student activist Panupong Jadnok, 23, are now free on bail.
Some of the protests have also broken decades-long taboos by calling for reform of the powerful monarchy, which Prayuth said “went too far”. Thailand has strict “lèse-majesté” laws against insulting or defaming the king, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Prayuth said the government has been restrained in not taking action against student activists who may have broken unspecified laws on social media.
He did not mention the lèse-majesté laws, but online comments involving the king have been increasingly bold for months.
“When they break the law, there are many people out there who are unhappy with the government for doing nothing about this,” Prayuth said.
“The government has been extremely careful.”