Hundreds protest in Bangkok urging junta to respect land rights

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the Thai capital on Monday calling on the junta to address land rights and housing needs in what police and organizers said was one of the biggest demonstrations since the May 2014 coup. Development in Thailand, Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy, has come at a cost to local communities who often face threats, violence and judicial harassment, say rights groups. Protesters marking World Habitat Day outside the regional UN headquarters in Asia said they would hand a petition to the United Nations and then march on to Government House, a stone's throw away, to demand land reform. "We came today so that the government can fix the land problems and land rights of poor people throughout the country," said Somneuk Phootnuan, 60, a rubber farmer from the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat. "If we keep kicking the poor off government land, we won't have anywhere to live or make a living," he said, as protesters waved flags and signs near the U.N. building. Sompong Chingduang, a police officer at the protest site, said around 1,000 people had gathered by mid-morning. Political protests have been outlawed since Thailand's generals seized power, ending months of sometimes violent street protests, but leaders of the demonstration said their gathering was not political. World Habitat Day is observed annually on the first Monday of October as a way of reminding the world of people's right to adequate shelter. (Reporting by Cod Satrusayang; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Nick Macfie)