Hundreds in Northern Thailand Protest Luxury Housing Development
On Sunday, April 28, over 1,000 people in the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai publicly protested against a luxury housing development on forested land.
The protest was one of the largest Thailand has seen since the military junta took control of the country in 2014. After consolidating power, the junta implemented a ban on public gatherings of over five people.
Despite the ban on public gatherings, local authorities allowed protesters to proceed since they had requested permission to protest in advance of Sunday.
"Around 1,250 people took part in the protest," Police Colonel Paisan, deputy commander of Chiang Mai Police, told Reuters news agency.
He added, "The protesters were focused on environmental issues and not politics, and they cleaned the street afterwards."
Aerial pictures of the housing project, whose construction began in 2015 with the intention that it will house judges, sparked the protest after circulating on social media for the past few months. The pictures showed that the development has penetrated the foothills of the Doi Suthep mountain.
Many protesters wore green ribbons and demanded that the government demolish buildings that encroached into the Doi Suthep mountain. The protesters also said that they would protest again in seven days if their demands were not met.
The Doi Suthep mountain is home to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple considered to be sacred. The temple allegedly contains a relic of Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha, upon whose teachings Buddhism was founded.
The Thai government recently posted a survey asking for “one comment about the solution to the problem of justice officials’ housing project” on Facebook. The results of the survey revealed that the Thais “are almost universally in favour of demolishing the residences”.
On Wednesday, May 2, the Minister of the Office of the Prime Minister announced that he will begin talks with protesters to resolve the dispute.
"I think a way out is possible. We are open to discussion and they also want to talk to us," he said.
Authorities had previously defended the housing project, saying that they are building it legally on government-owned land that does not infringe on the national park covering the rest of the Doi Suthep mountain.