(Update: adds info on protesters surrounding police headquarters)
Bangkok, Nov 18 (efe-epa).- Thai student protesters surrounded the national police headquarters on Wednesday during a demonstration that was called after at least 55 people were injured, including six with gunshot wounds, in violent clashes near the parliament the previous night.
In a tense scene, large angry crowds shouted abuse and fired toy water pistols at officers who were barricaded inside the complex behind steel gates and barbed wire, while others covered the main entrance to the Royal Thai Police complex with paint and anti-monarchy and anti-government graffiti.
The rally was called in retaliation for the heavy-handed police dispersal of protesters from nearby the parliament building on Tuesday.
The demonstrators had gathered peacefully to press for reform as lawmakers debated constitutional amendments in the riverside parliament buildings.
Police fired tear gas and water cannons laced with irritants and purple dye to disperse the demonstrators, and also threatened to use rubber bullets, in the most violent day so far in months of protests.
Bangkok’s deputy police chief Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawicha insisted Wednesday that no rubber – or live – bullets were used by his department.
A group of royalists, who oppose constitutional amendments and who authorities allowed to pass without any suppression, also brawled with the protesters, throwing rocks and other projectiles.
Aside from the six people with gunshot wounds, also included in the 55 people taken to various hospitals with injuries Tuesday night were 32 suffering from the effects of tear gas, Erawan Emergency Medical Center said Wednesday.
Over Tuesday and Wednesday, Thai lawmakers were debating and then voting on several reform proposals presented by government groups, the opposition and the NGO Internet Law Reform Dialog (iLaw), which has the support of 100,000 signatures.
The protesters mobilized by the Ratsadon (People) group want the lawmakers to accept all the proposals, and are due to gather at 4 pm (09:00 GMT) Wednesday, this time at Ratchaprasong intersection, in the commercial heart of the capital.
Since July, pro-democracy protesters have organized peaceful rallies almost daily, some of them attended by tens of thousands of people, to demand a new constitution to replace 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 2014 coup-leader and now prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha and a reduction in the power of the military, which has taken over in 13 coups since 1932, as well as curbs on the king’s influence in politics.
The reform of the monarchy is the boldest demand and has created the most friction with the more conservative sectors of Thailand, where a harsh lese majeste law provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison for criticizing the royal family.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 68, who ascended to the throne in 2016, had the constitution changed so that he would not have to appoint a regent during his stays in Germany, where he lives much of the year.
He also took personal control of key military units in the capital and of all Crown Property Bureau assets, estimated to be valued at more than $35 billion.
The usual absence of the monarch, who has now been in Thailand since mid-October, and his opulent lifestyle in Bavaria have drawn criticism during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is hitting the Thai economy hard. EFE-EPA