BANGKOK (AP) – Pro-democracy activists in Thailand staged loud protests in the capital for the fourth day in a row, thwarting government efforts to stop them, including stopping urban mass transit systems.
Unlike the protests the day before, when police used water cannons to hold protesters, Saturday’s demonstrations went smoothly and there were reports of clashes by the time participants began heading home in the evening.
Protesters are urging Prime Minister Prayut Chan-cha to step down, amend the constitution to make it more democratic and reform the country̵7;s monarchy.
All stations of the lifted Skytrain transit system in Bangkok were closed on Saturday afternoon to try to keep the protesters. The underground MRT system was also closed and police blocked several roads.
In any case, the protesters met, as planned, at Skytrain stations, where they held small impromptu rallies, effectively creating a temporary but active presence throughout the city.
The organizers then issued a new recommendation for followers to gather at three stations outside the central part of the city, where access was easier. As soon as this was announced, the participants pooled the money so that they could take a taxi to get around the transit stop.
“There’s nothing special we can do right now,” said a 26-year-old hotel employee who asked to be called only Veronica. “What we can do now is just show our strength to allow ourselves to see outside.”
Several thousand people gathered in different places, some in turn broadcasting their views through a megaphone. Until the evening, the police did not disturb them, even when some groups went outside. The protesters began to disperse at 20:00, when the organizers announced that the protests would end.
The protesters acted despite a state of emergency imposed by the Prayut on Thursday, which involves the arrest of all.
They also did not seem to be affected by the deployment of their action in central Bangkok on Friday night, when special forces, backed by water cannons, cleared the streets in about an hour.
No serious injuries were reported as a result of the confrontation. For the first time in three months of sporadic protests, the authorities used such strong tactics against the student movement.
A 20-year-old student who used Rio’s name said events on Friday night increased his opposition.
“I respect people’s political views, but after yesterday’s incident, I feel it was so brutal that it violated unarmed people who did not have weapons to fight,” he said.
Protective equipment, such as goggles, was distributed in some places on Saturday.
As a result of the violent crackdown on Friday night, the People’s Party, an umbrella organization of protesters, said in a statement that “the government and the military have declared themselves enemies of the people.” Most of the group’s top executives have been arrested.
The protesters did their best to avoid the authorities, using social networks to gather followers before the police could block them. The government has announced plans to take legal action against Twitter and Facebook accounts announcing the protests, but new calls for action were issued on Saturday.
Protesters accuse Priyut, who commanded an army coup in 2014 that toppled the elected government, of being unjustly returned to power in last year’s general election because the laws were changed in favor of the pro-war party. Protesters believe that the constitution, promulgated under military rule and adopted in a referendum in which campaigning against it was illegal, is undemocratic.
Protesters’ call for reform of the monarchy has significantly raised the political temperature in Thailand, angering many old conservative Thais, for whom any critical discussion of the royal family is tantamount to betrayal.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other key members of the royal family are protected by the lese majeste law, which is regularly used to silence critics who risk up to 15 years in prison if they believe they have offended the institution.
The State’s declaration of a state of emergency said the move was necessary because “certain groups of perpetrators intended to incite unpleasant events and relocate to the Bangkok area by various methods and channels, including obstructing the royal motorcade.”
He was referring to Wednesday’s incident, which showed some members of a small crowd raising a motorcade with Queen Sethida and Prince Dipangkorn as it passed slowly.
On Friday, two activists were arrested under a law covering violence against the Queen for their alleged involvement in the incident. If convicted, they could face life in prison. They denied any wrongdoing.