BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thai police fired water cannon and tear gas at protesters marching on Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 17), and at least 18 people were hurt in the most violent confrontation since a youth-led protest movement emerged in July.
Demonstrators converged on Parliament to put pressure on lawmakers discussing changes to the Constitution. They also want the removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army ruler, and reforms to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Police sprayed water cannon at protesters who cut through razor-wire barricades and removed concrete barriers outside parliament. Officers then fired tear gas. Thousands of protesters gathered at different points and the number grew into the evening.
Ambulances ferried the injured to hospital. Bangkok’s Erawan Medical Centre said 18 people were hurt, 12 of them suffering as a result of tear gas. It said one of those hurt was a police officer.
“This is brutal,” said a 31-year-old volunteer with the FreeYouth protest group, who gave his name as Oh. Protesters pushed forward behind makeshift shields – including inflatable pool ducks.
The deputy head of Bangkok police Piya Tavichai told Reuters: “Police had to use tear gas and water cannon because protesters were trying to break through the barriers.”
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police had been obliged to act to keep parliamentarians safe.
The Royal Palace has made no comment since the protests began, although the King himself recently described Thailand as a “land of compromise” when asked about the protests.
“This is not a compromise,” said Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a former opposition leader who was banned from Parliament in a legal decision he says was politically motivated.
Mr Prayut took power as the head of a military junta in 2014 and remained in office as prime minister after an election last year. He rejects opposition accusations that the election was unfair.
The last five months have seen the rise of a protest movement demanding deep reform to a system that demonstrators say entrenches the military’s grip on power. Royalist counter-demonstrators say the protests threaten the monarchy.
Lawmakers were discussing several proposals for constitutional changes, some of which would exclude the possibility of altering the monarchy’s role.
There is also discussion of the role of the upper house Senate, which was entirely selected by Mr Prayut’s former junta and helped ensure that he kept power with a parliamentary majority after last year’s disputed vote.
Some protesters scuffled with dozens of yellow-shirted royalists who had remained behind after an earlier demonstration by hundreds calling on lawmakers not to make changes to the constitution.
“Amending the constitution is going to lead to the abolition of the monarchy,” royalist leader Warong Dechgitvigrom told reporters. Protesters have said they do not want to abolish the monarchy.