By Lobsang DS Subirana and Nattakarn Jeamrugeekul
Bangkok, Oct 21 (efe-epa).- Thailand’s Prime Minister said Wednesday he would lift the state of emergency imposed a week ago to prevent student-led anti-government protests if violence doesn’t erupt.
Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha made the announcement in a televised evening address following a week of almost continuous protests demanding the government’s resignation, constitutional amendments and monarchical reform in the capital and other cities.
“I will take the first step to de-escalate the situation. I am going to lift the state of emergency in Bangkok and will do so promptly if there are no violent incidents,” the prime minister said, adding that protesters were at fault for clashes that erupted Friday between peaceful demonstrators and riot police.
The retired general, who led a 2014 military coup and became prime minister in a 2019 election widely viewed as free but not fair, said protesters violently attacked security forces last week.
“On Friday, we witnessed a series of incidents no-one in Thailand ever wanted to witness. We saw some saddening incidents against the police. Police were attacked and beaten with pliers, and there were a series of violent and inappropriate incidents,” Prayut said.
He did not specify when the decree would be lifted. The government imposed a “severe” state of emergency Thursday prohibiting political gatherings of more than four people, among other measures, although this didn’t prevent almost daily mass protests organized by students.
The prime minister said “now is the right time for the ideas and demands of the protesters to be considered together with the needs of other people and to find the right path and agreement through the parliamentary system.”
The decree was imposed after hundreds of protesters peacefully defied and obstructed the caravan of cars where Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn were traveling a day earlier, a gesture of rebellion unprecedented in the nation.
Thailand has one of the world’s most draconian lese-majeste laws and punishes insults to the crown by jail terms of up to 15 years per count.
At the same time Prayut addressed the nation, thousands of people in Bangkok marched from the Victory Monument to the Government House – barricaded by riot police – to demand his resignation.
Since Oct. 13, massive demonstrations have been organized almost daily, with an overwhelming attendance of young students, who have defied the state of emergency and demanded various reforms in the country.
Demonstrations have proceeded peacefully on most days except Friday, when police used water cannons and deployed hundreds of riot police to disperse the unarmed crowd by force.
At least 77 people had been arrested as of last week in relation to the demonstration, among them protest leaders Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who on Wednesday were denied bail.
The Information Ministry moved to censor four local news outlets, a decision overturned Wednesday by the country’s criminal court. EFE-EPA