Riot police in Thailand cracked down on thousands of student-led protesters who rallied yesterday in the capital in defiance of a strict state of emergency – while the prime minister rejected calls for his resignation.
Protesters gathered in the rain to push their demands, including that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha leave office, the constitution be amended and the nation’s monarchy undergo reform.
It was the second day they defied an order not to gather, imposed after some demonstrators heckled a royal motorcade, an unprecedented development in Thailand.
Police used water cannons and charged at the crowd, scattering protesters, onlookers and reporters. Journalists hit by the water said it caused a stinging sensation and was dyed blue, to mark protesters for possible later arrest.
Police appeared to have assumed control of the rally site, and much of the crowd retreated down a street to nearby Chulalongkorn University, where some organisers advised them to shelter if they were not going directly home.
Police had earlier closed roads and put up barricades around a major Bangkok intersection where 10,000 protesters defied the new decree on Thursday. Nearby mass transit stations were closed to stop crowds of protesters from getting near the area.
Mr Prayuth’s government declared a strict new state of emergency for the capital on Thursday – a day after the heckling of the motorcade.
The state of emergency outlaws public gatherings of more than five people and bans the dissemination of news deemed to threaten national security. It also gives authorities broad powers, including detaining people at length without charge.
A number of protest leaders have already been rounded up since the decree went into effect. On Friday, another two activists were arrested under a law covering violence against the queen for their alleged part in the heckling of the motorcade. They could face up to life in prison if convicted.
The protest movement was launched in March by university students and its original core demands were new elections, changes in the constitution to make it more democratic, and an end to intimidation of activists.
The protesters say that Mr Prayuth – who, as army commander, led a 2014 coup that toppled an elected government – was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party.