Thai police uses teargas to disperse protesters as parliament debates reform
(Update 1: adds info about police violence)
Bangkok, Nov 17 (efe-epa).- Thai police on Tuesday used teargas and water cannons to disperse the latest student-led protest in front of the parliament, where lawmakers are debating constitutional reforms.
Hundreds of protesters from the anti-government student movement as well as rival pro-monarchy demonstrators had gathered close to the parliament in Bangkok since early morning, with security forces installing cement blocks and barbed wires to secure a 50-meter perimeter around the building.
Multiple trucks of anti-riot police sprayed jets of colored water mixed with chemicals and fired teargas when pro-democracy protesters tried to dismantle the barricades.
This is the third time that the police has used water cannons on peaceful student-led protests, which have been joined since July by thousands of young people in Bangkok.
The pro-government group wearing yellow t-shirts, representing the royal colors of King Vajiralongkorn, shouted slogans supporting the Royal Household and the government.
The yellow t-shirts were allowed access to the parliament and the police did not use violence to suppress their demonstration.
Thailand’s parliament on Tuesday began debating constitutional reforms, a process that involves a vote and is expected to continue until Wednesday.
The anti-government protesters consider the current constitution a product of the country’s former military junta and are demanding the reform of the monarchy and pro-monarchy groups.
The Thai lawmakers will debate and then vote on several reform proposals presented by the government, the opposition, and a more progressive one submitted by the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), which has the support of 100,000 signatures.
More than 1,300 police officials are in the vicinity of the parliament.
Demonstrators mobilized by the Ratsadon (People’s Movement) student organization had convened the marches in the afternoon to urge the legislators to accept all the proposals for constitutional reform.
Since July, pro-democracy protesters have organized demonstrations almost every day to demand a new constitution in place of the current one, which was drafted by the former military junta that ruled the country between 2014 and 2019.
One of the most controversial elements in the constitution is the military’s ability to handpick 245 members of the Senate.
The students are also demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and clipping the wings of the military and the king to limit his influence in the country’s politics.
The army in Thailand has led 13 successful coups since the end of absolute royal rule in 1932.
Discussions of reform to the monarchy, which has long been shielded from public criticism by laws – is by far the most controversial demand because of the devotion the institution enjoys from millions of Thais and the lèse-majesté law, which punishes anyone who criticizes the royal house with up to 15 years in prison.
Vajiralongkorn, 68, who ascended to the throne in 2016, is less revered than his late father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, and his absence from the country and his opulent lifestyle in the mountains of Bavaria have drawn criticism during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is hitting the Thai economy hard.
The monarch, who has been in Thailand since mid-October, has also taken personal control of military units in the capital and of all Crown Property Bureau assets, estimated to be valued at more than $35 billion. EFE-EPA