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Police use water canon in Bangkok riots and charge the public to evict thousands of protesters in the Thai capital, a day after the government officially banned street rallies demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a new constitution and reform of the country’s monarchy.
Most students protested the government’s ban on capital gatherings on Friday imposed a day earlier after protesters stopped and destroyed a motorcade carrying King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida. It was an unprecedented display of dissatisfaction for the royal couple in a country where people were taught to respect the monarchy and where severe penalties were imposed on anyone who openly criticized the palace.
The massive protests of the past few days – some drawing the majority of the population to an estimated tens of thousands of people – and the government crackdown they have triggered represent a major increase in the study driving against what many see as authoritarian in all rule in Thailand.
Protests began in March, but were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which revived and swollen in recent days.
Much of the anger was directed at the country’s prime minister, a former army general who took power from an elected government in 2014. The military junta led by Prayuth then rewrote the country’s constitution, giving military power to appoint 250-member Senate. Prayuth retained his position as premier in last year’s controversial election.
Protesters want a new constitution – one that the military does not have a hand in creating. They also want restraint on the strength of the palace. The king, who spent most of his time in Germany, was in control of vast wealth at a time when ordinary Thais were suffering in the midst of the collapse of tourism due to coronavirus.
Friday marked the second day of defamation in declaring government emergency powers. Protesters gathered at the Pathumwan intersection in central Bangkok. In a scene reminiscent of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrations in the first year, protesters wore rain slicks and carried umbrellas in an effort to protect themselves from water jet fire of the police.
Many protesters shouted “Get out, get out” to the police, the same slogan they raised to call the prime minister down. They also shouted “Release our friends” – a reference to more than 40 people reportedly arrested in recent days.
“The dictatorial government is using violence to disperse the people’s movement,” Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, one of the protest leaders, told Reuters.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Prayuth said “I am not stopping,” and told reporters that emergency measures put in place early Thursday morning would remain in effect for 30 days.
The king, who made no direct statement about the protests, said in television comments that Thailand “needs people who love the country and love the monarchy,” Reuters reports.
A journalist for online media Prachatai was arrested while streaming his report live at the protest scene, according to an independent outlet. It said the reporter “could be charged with violating the Emergency Decree prohibiting publishing, broadcasting information that threatens stability.”
Some of the water sprayed on the crowd was gilded blue, apparently to “tag” participants for possible later arrests. Protesters said the water also contained an irritant on the skin and eyes, and several social media posts showed demonstrators trying to flush their eyes and face with bottled water.
The chemicals in the water are not dangerous, a police spokesman insisted, speaking at a news conference. He said, “The police followed international standards to disperse the demonstration.”
Police regained control of the streets around 8:30 local time, according to the Bangkok Post, after protesters told protesters to return home and return for another massive rally on Saturday.
Police spokesman Yingyot Thepchamnong warned protesters that if they fail to heed warnings against “illegal acts,” they will be severely dealt with.
“After that, there will be intensive law enforcement initiatives,” he said.