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Thai priest urges peaceful path to reform

Jesuit leads protesters in prayer as Bangkok shutdown continues

Stephen Steele, Bangkok

Stephen Steele, Bangkok

Updated: January 15, 2014 07:38 PM GMT
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Thai priest urges peaceful path to reform

Fr Phoktavi addressed one of several protest sites around central Bangkok (picture: AFP Photo/Nicolas Asfouri) 

A Catholic priest has urged anti-government protesters in Bangkok to seek justice and reform through peaceful means following a night of sporadic violence in the Thai capital.

Addressing several thousand protesters in central Bangkok on Wednesday, Jesuit Father Vichai Phoktavi prayed for peace and justice in Thailand. 

“I think that politics and our government in Thailand should be reformed, we need to reduce corruption and there should be more participation from the people,” he told ucanews.com. 

Father Vichai said he was approached by protest organizers on Tuesday to help lead an interreligious prayer service to kick off the third consecutive day of citywide protests, dubbed “Shutdown Bangkok” by organizers. He followed on stage a Muslim imam who offered a similar prayer for peace and justice, Father Vichai said. 

The religious leaders’ pleas for peace came after pockets of violence were reported across the city on Tuesday night. Two people were shot, an explosive device was thrown at the home of Abhisit Vejjajiva, the main opposition party leader, a bus used by protesters was set on fire and police were attacked in several separate incidents, authorities said. 

The shootings occurred near the city's Pathum Wan intersection, not far from where Wednesday’s prayer session took place.  

Father Vichai, former director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said he reminded the crowd in a city still scarred from the deadly 2010 riots that the use of nonviolence was the best way for them to achieve their goals. 

“I am not involved in politics and I am not here to choose sides. I am here to help strengthen Thai society and to promote justice and peace and good morals among Thai people and Thai politics,” he said. 

Protesters have been seeking to oust the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and install an appointed government to institute political reforms before holding new elections. They and the main opposition Democrat Party have refused to participate in elections scheduled for February 2 unless reforms are made.

The ongoing protests involve blocking off several major streets and intersections in central Bangkok. While some offices and schools were closed and larger shopping centers closed early, organizers have fallen short of their goal to paralyze the city. At several protest sites, organizers have opened portions of roadways to allow traffic to pass through. 

The protests were initially triggered by a failed amnesty bill that could have allowed Yingluck’s billionaire brother and former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, to return from his self-imposed exile without going to jail. 

Thaksin, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, is popular in northern Thailand, but reviled by many in the south and Bangkok’s middle class.

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