Thai royalists confront pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok

Members of a royalist group hold up framed pictures during a rally to show support for the Thai establishment at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok on Oct 21, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Scores of Thai royalists and anti-government protesters confronted each other in Bangkok on Wednesday as demands for reforms to the monarchy and the departure of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha intensified.

Thousands of protesters also gathered at Victory Monument in central Bangkok for a march, defying a ban on political gatherings meant to end three months of protests.

A royalist group had rallied at Ramkhamhaeng University to show support for King Maha Vajiralongkorn's monarchy but tension grew as student protesters assembled nearby.

The yellow-shirted royalists advanced on the protesters and the two sides shouted abuse at each other. Some threw water bottles and other objects before the students pulled back and police stepped in to separate the sides.

"We are victorious today," the royalists chanted.

Protests have almost all been non-violent so far apart from incidents last week when riot police with shields and batons used water cannon on protesters.

Police spokesman Yingyos Thepjumnong said all groups would be treated the same.

"We are ready for big surprises every day," he said. "We need to balance law enforcement with social peace and safety, no matter at whose gatherings."

The protests have become the biggest challenge to Thailand's establishment in years and have drawn the most open opposition to the monarchy in decades despite lese majeste laws setting jail terms of up to 15 years for insulting the monarchy.

When protests began in July, they originally demanded a new constitution and the departure of Prime Minister Prayuth, accusing him of keeping hold of power last year by engineering an election that he says was fair.

The demands for changes to reduce the monarchy's powers came later.

The Palace has a policy of making no comment to media and has made no comment on either the protests or the demands of the protesters.

Pro-democracy protesters march during an anti-government protest in Bangkok, Thailand, on Oct 21, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Several thousand protesters, many of them students and young people, said they would march from Victory Monument to Prayuth's office at Government House.

"The government should just resign. My future is going to be a disaster otherwise," said one 16-year-old high school student who gave her name as Put. "I'm just a student but I have a right to have my voice heard too."

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