BANGKOK: Thousands of protesters gathered at several locations in Bangkok on Saturday (Oct 17) to call for an end to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, despite clashes on Friday night which saw police using water cannon to disperse crowds.
In defiance of an emergency decree banning gatherings, protesters rallied for a fourth straight day, with a youth-led movement, now known as the People, announcing that it will regroup.
Authorities shut much of the city's transport system on Saturday afternoon in a bid to thwart protesters, but they gathered wherever they could.
Protest organisers called for Saturday's gathering to start at 4pm local time.
They urged protesters to be present at every BTS Skytrain station by 3pm, and to consider them protest sites in case the skytrain stops operations before that time.
Police did not intervene on Saturday, and the protests dispersed after several hours.
Bangkok has been under a state of serious emergency since 4am on Thursday, banning any gathering of five people or more as well as any action that would incite unrest.
Publication of news and electronic information with messages that could instil fear among the public, intentionally distort facts, or cause misunderstanding that would affect the national security, or peace and order is also prohibited.
The order was issued by Prime Minister Prayut to control anti-government protesters, who have staged mass demonstrations since Wednesday.
The protests first took place at the Democracy Monument before demonstrators moved to occupy areas outside Government House. Protesters were dispersed the following morning by riot police and several protest leaders were arrested.
On Thursday, a big rally took place at the Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok’s business district. According to police, at least 10,000 people joined the protest.
On Friday, protesters regrouped at the Pathumwan intersection, which is located near the Ratchaprasong intersection. At 6.30pm, police in full riot gear started approaching the protesters before hitting them with water cannon.
According to police, the water was mixed with non-toxic blue dye and chemical irritants. Several protesters were injured and a few others were arrested.
The police told reporters that their actions were in line with international standards and are legal under Thai law. Police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen expressed condolences to the injured protesters but said it would not have happened “if no unlawful act had been committed”.
The use of water cannon and chemical irritants has been criticised as unnecessary as protesters appeared to be unarmed and many of them are youths.
The anti-government movement has been calling for an end to Prime Minister Prayut’s rule, reform of the monarchy and a change to the current constitution, which was drafted and passed during the rule of Prayut’s military government.
In 2014, Prayut led a military coup to topple a democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He controlled Thailand for five years, before an election in 2019 installed his political party to government.
The anti-government movement is driven by a coalition of youth groups from across Thailand.
They were first known collectively as the People’s Party, a symbolic reference to a group of revolutionaries behind Thailand’s transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy in 1932. However, the name has been changed to the People.
The movement took to the streets after a parliamentary session on Sep 24, when lawmakers decided not to vote on six proposals for charter amendment submitted by the ruling coalition and opposition parties.
Instead, a committee was formed to study the proposals for a month first. The move was said to be the government’s attempt to delay changes to the constitution despite months of pressure from the public.