Thousands occupy streets of Bangkok in 4th day of protests

They allege govt used excessive violence, call for Prayut to resign

Protesters gathering during an anti-government rally in Bangkok's Udomsuk area yesterday. The flash mobs in the city ended peacefully after a few hours.
Protesters gathering during an anti-government rally in Bangkok's Udomsuk area yesterday. The flash mobs in the city ended peacefully after a few hours.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Thousands of anti-government protesters in Bangkok massed in defiance yesterday after a police crackdown a day earlier, alleging the government had used excessive violence and demanding Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha step down.

Unlike last Friday, when the riot police blasted protesters with water cannon before advancing into crowds with shields and batons, the security presence yesterday was light. The flash mobs ended peacefully after a few hours.

This was the fourth consecutive day of mass protests despite Mr Prayut's declaration of a "serious emergency" in Bangkok last Thursday, which banned political gatherings of five or more people and gave security officers extensive powers to search and detain individuals.

The decree was made in response to a protest in inner Bangkok last Wednesday that appeared to slow a motorcade bearing Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti.

Two protesters on the scene have been charged with endangering the Queen, an offence that carries a potential life sentence.

Mr Prayut, according to government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri, defended the police break-up of last Friday's rally at Pathumwan intersection.

"The government conducted the operation to end the protest within legal conventions," Mr Anucha said yesterday.

"It did not harm the rights and freedoms of any group of people."

The events last Friday did not create winners or losers, but only loss to the country, he added.

"The Prime Minister asked the people to join hands in avoiding the protests and any unlawful violence."

Anti-government protesters dispersed by the police amid the chaos last Friday surged back onto the streets yesterday, this time prepared with umbrellas and motorcycle helmets.

  • Key leaders

  • ARNON NAMPA

  • The 35-year-old human rights lawyer represents political activists and lese majeste defendants in court.

    During an Aug 3 rally, he shook Thailand by openly calling for the monarch's powers to be trimmed.

    Since then, he has frequently repeated his message, opening the way for public discussion on the role of Thailand's monarchy.

    PARIT CHIWARAK

  • Nicknamed "Penguin", the fiery 22-year-old politics student at Thammasat University has been a political activist since high school, where he served as secretary-general of reform group Education for the Liberation of Siam.

    In 2018, he co-founded the Student Union of Thailand to mobilise students across the country. He is also a key member of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a student group that has emerged as the most virulent critic of the monarchy.

    PANUSAYA SITHIJIRAWATTANAKUL

  • Nicknamed "Rung", the 22-year-old sociology and anthropology student at Thammasat University is also a leader of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration.

    On Aug 10, she riled royalists by reading out a list of 10 demands related to the monarchy, it included trimming the royal budget and stopping publicity efforts excessively glorifying the monarchy.

    At a massive rally outside the Grand Palace on Sept 19 and 20, she tried to deliver a petition directly addressed to the King via his privy council president.

    PANUPONG JADNOK 

  • Better known as "Mike Rayong", the 23-year-old Ramkhamhaeng University student first rose to prominence in July, when he and his friend tried to protest against the government's handling of the pandemic during a visit by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to Rayong province.

    He is now at the forefront of the protest in downtown Bangkok's Ratchaprasong intersection.

    JATUPAT BOONPATTARARAKSA 

  • As a law student in Khon Kaen University in 2014, Mr Jatupat, better known as "Pai", was among five students from grassroots activist group Dao Din who flashed the three-finger anti-dictatorship salute in front of PM Prayut.

    In 2016, together with more than 2,000 others, he shared a BBC Thai profile of Thailand's new monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, that was posted on Facebook. He was charged with lese majeste and sentenced to 21/2 years in jail.

    He was freed a few weeks early under a royal pardon. He is now 29 years old.

"We didn't have any weapons, only umbrellas. How could they do this to us?" said a 23-year-old undergraduate who wanted to be known as Por.

She was among thousands who occupied the busy Lat Phrao intersection for some four hours yesterday.

"I am a little scared, but I feel I cannot surrender. The more of us are arrested, the more we need to come out. We cannot abandon our friends."

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group, at least 72 people have been arrested in protest-related cases since last Tuesday.

The police shut down Bangkok's entire electric rail network yesterday afternoon in a bid to prevent protesters from congregating.

In response, the people walked or piled into tuk-tuks to head to sites that were announced via social media less than an hour before the protests began.

Many of them were high school students who took turns condemning the government via loudspeakers as their peers sat on the tarmac.

Several key protest leaders arrested earlier continue to be denied bail. They include human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and Thammasat University students Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul.

The trio have been vocal in advocating monarchy reform, a deeply taboo topic in Thailand, where insulting the king or queen can land an offender in prison for up to 15 years.

Their fiery speeches have opened the lid on public discussion about the role of Thailand's monarchy.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn took ownership of Crown Property Bureau's multibillion-dollar assets two years ago and also controls two army units. He spends much of his time in Germany.

Protesters have questioned his expenditure amid the economic hardship caused by the pandemic, and are calling for his powers to be trimmed in line with Thailand's status as a constitutional monarchy.

Protesters also want amendments to the military-backed Constitution, which they argue favours Mr Prayut, who took power after staging a military coup in 2014.

Mr Matthew Wheeler, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, wrote in a note released last Friday that the need for "a fresh concord on the monarchy's changing role" was "daunting".

"Government officials and royalists insist that public discussion of this role is off limits, but their position is, in the light of recent events, anachronistic.

"The degree of repression necessary to effectively reinstate the prohibition, including online, would tarnish both the government and the monarchy."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2020, with the headline 'Thousands occupy streets of Bangkok in 4th day of protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe