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Thai junta unfazed by serial hunger striker's "win-win" fast

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  • Thai junta unfazed by serial hunger striker's "win-win" fast

    Thai junta unfazed by serial hunger striker's "win-win" fast
    Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Aubrey Belford
    (Editing by Martin Petty and Alex Richardson)
    Wed Jun 18, 2014

    e9lHuwM.jpg
    Chalad Vorachat, a retired navy lieutenant and serial hunger striker, sits on the steps of the criminal court in Bangkok June 10, 2014.

    Credit: Reuters/Stringer

    (Reuters) - For more than three decades, Chalad Vorachat's hunger strikes have drawn crowds. Once, he even helped topple a government.

    But this time, the veteran Thai anti-coup campaigner says he's contemplating a very different outcome: wasting away unnoticed on a Bangkok pavement.

    He wants to see Thailand's military, which took power in a bloodless coup last month, set a date for a new general election to usher in a democratically elected government.

    "If it doesn't happen soon, then I'll have to sacrifice my life," he told Reuters outside Bangkok's parliament building, where he sits beside plastic wreaths symbolizing the death of democracy and subsists on honey and water.

    "If I don't die, then I win. And if I do die, I also win," he said, a smile flickering across his face.

    Chalad, 71, embodies the vicious cycle that is Thai politics. Since 1980, the former Democrat Party lawmaker has refused food as a form of protest against everything from oil prices to constitutional amendments.

    He was thrust into notoriety in 1992, when a hunger strike against then-Prime Minister General Suchinda Kraprayoon, who took power following a coup, helped inspire bloody protests that killed at least 52 people and resulted in Suchinda's downfall.

    Since then, he's carried out hunger strikes in 1994, 2000 and 2006 aimed at ending the political meddling of the military, which has carried out 12 successful coups since the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932.

    The former navy lieutenant last week filed criminal charges against junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha and other officers for insulting the monarchy and treason. The case was promptly dismissed.

    Thai politics has long been tumultuous, and the past decade has seen society sharply divided over the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, a former telecoms tycoon elected prime minister twice on massive rural support garnered through populist giveaways.

    He was overthrown in a 2006 coup. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, became prime minister in 2011, but months of protests that began in November helped trigger her downfall in May.

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