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Spectre of university massacre looms over Thai student protests

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Relentless gunfire, lynched bodies, frenzied mobs — the horrific violence Krisadang Nutcharut witnessed at Thammasat University more than 40 years ago propelled him into a legal career now spent defending Thailand’s young pro-democracy activists.

Like many survivors, he regards October 6, 1976, as one of the darkest days in his country’s history, when security forces and royalist militias murdered dozens of youngsters in the middle of Bangkok.

“It wasn’t an equal battle — it was a massacre. The students didn’t fight back, we didn’t have guns,” Krisadang tells AFP.

“It is a lesson I will never forget.”

Today, the 62-year-old represents two prominent faces of a new youth-led movement against the kingdom’s military-aligned government — human rights lawyer Anon Numpa and activist Panupong Jadnok.

The duo are facing sedition charges after calling for reforms to the kingdom’s powerful monarchy in massive demonstrations.

The latest rally drew 30,000 protesters in the biggest public gathering Thailand has seen in years.

The growing momentum of the protests — peaceful so far — has nevertheless raised the haunting memories of 1976 in Krisadang’s mind. 

“I have to teach the younger generation not to underestimate the military because they are merciless,” he says.

The kingdom has long seen an interminable cycle of political violence and short-lived civilian governments bracketed by military coups.

But the Thammasat massacre stands out for its brutality against students, who had been protesting for weeks against an ousted dictator’s return to the country from exile.

Security forces and royalist mobs shot, beat and stabbed students around the campus, while others were strung up from trees.

Officially, 46 protesters were killed, though survivors believe the true toll was more than 100.

No official has ever been held accountable for the bloody event.

– Shots, grenades –

Seared in Krisadang’s memory are snapshots