BANGKOK • Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took over key intersections in Bangkok yesterday, defying a ban on protests for the fourth day with chants of "down with dictatorship" and "reform the monarchy".
Demonstrations have persisted despite the arrest of dozens of protesters and their leaders, the use of water cannon and the shutdown of much of Bangkok's metro rail system, in an effort to quell over three months of street action.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said at least 80 protesters have been arrested since last Tuesday, with 27 still being held.
"Free our friends!" the protesters called out as they stood in the rain in a mass of colourful ponchos and umbrellas.
Some held up pictures of detained protest leaders.
"I cannot let the students fight alone," said 24-year-old Phat, a first-time rallygoer at Bangkok's Victory Monument.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is concerned about the spreading protests and the government wants to talk, his spokesman said.
Across Thailand yesterday, demonstrations were held in solidarity in at least 19 other provinces, including Nonthaburi, Chonburi and Khon Kaen.
National Police spokesman Yingyos Thepjumnong warned protesters earlier yesterday that no rallies "causing unrest and disorder" would be allowed.
But police kept a low-key presence yesterday as more than 20,000 people, according to local media, descended on the Victory Monument.
"We are committed to maintaining peace and order. In order to do so, we are bound by laws, international standards, human rights," police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen told a news conference.
Protesters say Mr Prayut engineered last year's election to keep the power he seized in a 2014 coup - an accusation he denies.
The demonstrations have also become more openly critical of the monarchy, with protesters demanding curbs to its powers despite potential jail terms of up to 15 years for anyone insulting the King.
During demonstrations by tens of thousands of people at multiple points across Bangkok on Saturday, protesters painted a flag on the road with "Republic of Thailand" written across it. Overnight, the writing was painted over.
The Royal Palace has made no comment, but King Maha Vajiralongkorn has said Thailand needs people who love the country and the monarchy.
Solidarity protests were also being held or planned in Taiwan, Denmark, Sweden, France, the United States and Canada.
The Thai protesters, who have adopted the fast-moving tactics of Hong Kong activists, kept the police guessing about where demonstrations would be held with a slew of social media posts.
Links have grown between protesters in Thailand and Hong Kong with a so-called Milk Tea Alliance, referring to drinks popular in both places.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG