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Thailand: students demand freedom of expression 'We want things to be fixed'

Bangkok, ThailandHundreds of high school students rallied in front of the education ministry in Bangkok on Wednesday, tying white ribbons to the gates and demanding more freedom in schools from the government after a string of demonstrations around the country.

High school students have been demonstrating in schools around the country by raising three-finger "Hunger Games" salutes during national anthems and wearing white ribbons as a sign to support student-led anti-government protests that have been taking place almost daily since mid-July, demanding an end to military domination in Thai politics and a fresh election. The high school students are calling for the ousting of the Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, who came out to greet the protesters and promised them that the government will hear them out.

As demand for more democracy grows around the country, the high school protesters say they are demonstrating against the restrictive nature of Thai education culture which has strict rules on uniform, personal appearances and regimental practices that they say are repressive to their freedom of expression.

"We were barred from expressing ourselves just because the word "youth" which they use to bind us in a box," a 17 year old female student who refused to be named told Reuters. Thai Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan also appeared at the demonstration and sat down to talk with some of the students.

"I want you all (students) to take note of this and it's totally fine to express any kind of symbols, you can express it in any form as long as it remains in the boundaries, not aggressive. You're not poking my eyes with the three fingers," he spoke to the students.

"At the same time, you have to give others who think differently and might not want to show the three-finger salute a chance as well. The three-finger have different meanings to many groups. For me, it means the country, monarchy and king. Therefore, the way we think can differ as well," he added.

Protesters accuse Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of holding on to power unfairly after elections last year under rules drawn up his junta. He says the elections were fair. Apart from the political demands, some pupils demonstrated against a school system which emphasizes obedience and tradition, from lining up daily for the national anthem to strict rules on uniforms, haircuts and behaviour.

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