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Thai opposition figure says he has been charged over protest rally

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai opposition party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has been charged over an anti-government rally he staged last month, he said on Friday after meeting with police.

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The Dec. 15 rally that Thanathorn called was the largest since a 2014 coup when then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power from a civilian government.

Thanathorn, who founded the progressive Future Forward Party, said he and seven others were charged with breaching a law on public gatherings that was imposed under Prayuth’s former military government.

He said he has denied the charges, which he described as politically motivated.

“We reiterate the basic rights to peaceful assembly,” he told reporters. “They want to stop us, distract us from what we’re doing.”

The law on public gatherings requires organizers to formally notify authorities at least 24 hours before an event is scheduled to take place.

Future Forward’s spokeswoman said they did not notify authorities because the rally was based on basic rights, while police said that the failure to do so was a breach of the law.

Police told Reuters they will summon Thanathorn and the others to hear whether they will forward the case to a public prosecutor early next month.

The 41-year-old billionaire has emerged as the most outspoken opponent of the new civilian government headed by Prayuth, 65, since an election in March that the opposition said was manipulated to favour Prayuth’s pro-army party.

The government and the army have accused Thanathorn and his party them of trying to incite unrest and even overthrow the constitutional monarchy that is central to many Thais’ cultural identity.

The charges on Friday were the latest in a string of legal cases against the upstart party, which came third in last year’s elections.

Thailand’s constitutional court is due to rule later this month whether to dissolve Future Forward based on a complaint that includes allegations the party’s triangle logo resembles a symbol of the Illuminati, a secret society that conspiracy theorists believe seeks world domination.

In another case, the party faces allegations that it has violated laws governing political parties and accepting loans from its party leader.

In November, the court disqualified Thanathorn as a member of parliament for violating election law.

Thanathorn said he remained undaunted. “The will of the people to fight for democracy is stronger. This will not stop us whatsoever,” he said.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry