Bangkok, Oct 15 (efe-epa).- Thousands of protesters Thursday occupied Bangkok’s city center, defying an emergency decree imposed earlier in the day banning political gatherings to curb recent large-scale demonstrations demanding political and monarchical reform.
Peaceful demonstrators who had gathered despite the ban on crowds of more than four people initially struggled for control of the city’s Ratchaprasong Intersection, as Thai police linked arms to block access to the BTS Skytrain overpass and the street below.
“Get out!” demonstrators responded and continued to yell as police announced via megaphone that they were violating the state of emergency before the crowd broke through the chains of security officers, who then moved toward the outskirts of the avenue to spectate. Protesters sat down and continued chanting as they mulled camping out overnight.
Police had earlier given demonstrators an ultimatum to disperse by 6 pm which came and went. Everyone remained seated as of 6.30 pm (11.30 am GMT) as more people kept arriving. The government had declared the state of emergency at 4 am following Wednesday’s rallies.
Protesters occupied Wednesday the streets leading to the Government House in a continuation of the movement, as pro-monarchy factions were bussed in before clashing with those demanding reform to the royal institution. Authorities arrested 22 people for their roles in the demonstrations. Twenty-one more had been arrested Tuesday.
The rallies come in light of a student-led movement which began in February after the Constitutional Court dissolved the popular Future Forward Party. They’ve since morphed into a full-blown demand for curbs on the power of King Vajiralongkorn and the military’s intervention in politics.
In February, small student protests began. However, since July, after some restrictions to contain COVID-19 were lifted, they have progressed into large organized demonstrations of tens of thousands of people.
Wednesday’s occasion was symbolic as the king, who habitually resides in Germany, flew into the country last weekend to mark the four-year anniversary of the death of his father, King Bhumibol, a day earlier.
Queen Suthida’s motorcade, which drove through the crowd, was met with shouting and three-finger salutes – a symbol of defiance to authority inspired by the dystopian novels “The Hunger Games” that was widely seen Thursday too.
Local and international news television broadcasts reporting the news were being offset by five minutes and censored.
“We have to help our friends… to make police release friends from yesterday’s arrests (sic),” said a 27-year-old protester who identified himself as “Off” when asked why he was there, adding that he was “not scared because it’s our right to stand for democracy.”
The movement is symbolic as Thailand has one of the harshest lese-majeste laws in the world, with insults to the monarchy carrying prison sentences of up to 15 years. EFE-EPA