Several thousand pro-democracy protesters are defying the ban on meetings in Bangkok for the third day in a row, the day after major clashes with police, who used water cannons to disperse crowds for the first time.
On Saturday, the protesters decided to gather in three different locations, outside the city center. Hundreds of activists, mostly young people, gathered at a large intersection in the north of the capital. At the same time, on the other side of the Chao Phraya River, almost a thousand people shouted “Long live the people, down with the dictatorship!”
And in the southeast of the city, protesters managed to stop traffic, waving with three fingers, a gesture that has become a sign of resistance in these demonstrations.
“Be physically and mentally prepared for possible repression” by the authorities, the organizers warned. We go ahead because “the government and the armed forces are totally against the population.”
The movement, made up mostly of students, calls for the resignation of the prime minister, Prayut Chan O Cha, and also dares to mention the reform of the powerful and wealthy monarchy, a taboo subject in the country until a few months ago.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn did not refer directly to these demonstrations, but declared on public television that Thailand “needs a people who love their country, a people who love the institution” that the monarchy represents.
On Thursday and Friday, several thousand people gathered in the center of the capital despite the promulgation of an emergency decree that prohibited any gathering of more than four people.
Riot police used water cannons and chemicals for the first time on Friday to disperse the protest, a sign that this crisis, which began a few months ago, shows no signs of abating.
According to law enforcement, four policemen and 11 protesters were injured. Since Tuesday, 60 people have been arrested, including nine leaders of the pro-democracy movement, the NGO Thai Lawyers for Human Rights informed AFP.
Some were released on bail, others, such as lawyer Anon Numpa, an emblematic figure of these protests and highly critical of royalty, were imprisoned in the north of the country.
– Violation of fundamental rights –
On Wednesday, several dozen protesters made the now emblematic gesture of raising three fingers of their hands as Queen Suthida’s vehicle passed, which was interpreted as a challenge to royal authority.
Two activists were arrested and charged with “violence against the queen”, a rare charge, punishable by life imprisonment.
This Saturday, the opposition Pheu Thai party called on the government to immediately lift the emergency measures and release the detainees.
The emergency decree is “a green light” given to the authorities “to violate fundamental rights and carry out arbitrary arrests with all impunity,” condemned the NGO Human Rights Watch, urging the international community to react.
“Do not break the law, (…) I will not resign,” warned General Prayut Chan O Cha on Friday, adding that the emergency measures would be applied for a maximum period of thirty days. The official did not rule out a curfew in the capital if the situation continues.
The prime minister, a former army chief, has been in power since the 2014 coup and leads a civilian government after last year’s controversial elections.
In Thailand, political tensions are compounded by a serious economic crisis. The country, which depends on tourism, is in the middle of a recession with millions of people unemployed due to the dire impact of the new coronavirus pandemic on this crucial sector.
Thailand is used to political violence and has recorded 12 coups since the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932.
In light of the situation, “the likelihood that the military will regain control of the country is feasible,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
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