Thousands of Thai pro-democracy supporters took to the streets across Bangkok in defiance of a ban on large gatherings and efforts by authorities to thwart demonstrations by shutting some train services.
Protesters gathered at several locations in the capital on Saturday, the fourth straight day of demonstrations, with some holding placards saying “release our friends” and “stop using violence,” while others chanted “our taxes,” a reference that taxpayers are funding the government and monarchy.
The rallies ended peacefully by 8 p.m. local time with demonstrations also being reported from more than a dozen provinces including Nonthaburi.
Thailand’s government restricted access to parts of the capital while train operators suspended some services, in a bid to disrupt the protesters’ plans. Elevated train operator BTS Group Holdings and subway operator Bangkok Expressway and Metro halted services across the city from around 3 p.m. local time. The government also issued an order to shut down an area of the capital where protests took place on Friday.
The latest rallies followed nighttime clashes between police and demonstration at an intersection in central Bangkok on Friday after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha rejected calls to quit. At least seven people were arrested after the demonstrators resisted baton-wielding officers, who resorted to high-pressure water cannons to disperse the rally.
The prime minister called on the government to enforce emergency rules but asked that all officials avoid violence, government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said in a statement on Saturday.
“The government is in a rush to stop the protests to prevent a group of people who try to worsen the situation for political benefit and create division in the society,” Anucha said.
Protesters are calling for greater democracy and reform to the monarchy. They have broken long-held taboos about publicly criticizing the royal family and have questioned laws that stifle discussion of the monarchy.
“The country now needs people who love the country, needs people who love the royal institution,” King Maha Vajiralongkorn said in a televised broadcast on Friday evening. The king was alongside Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana, whose motorcade passed through the demonstration area earlier this week when protesters shouted “my taxes” and gave her the three-finger salute — a symbol of the demonstrations.
The protesters are also calling for the resignation of Prayuth’s government and a rewriting of the constitution, which was drafted by a military-appointed panel after Prayuth, a former army chief, took power in a 2014 coup. The activists say the charter was instrumental in helping Prayuth retain power after the 2019 elections.
Prayuth on Friday said he won’t resign, and the emergency rules that he declared on Thursday will be in place for 30 days, or less if the situation improves. The state of emergency for Bangkok was announced after tens of thousands of protesters broke through police lines and surrounded Prayuth’s office on Wednesday night.
The protesters’ use of social media to plan their gatherings and open defiance of police point to the resolve of the movement’s leaders to keep up the pressure until their demands are met.
More than 50 protesters were arrested this week, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Police have said legal action will be taken against those who violated the ban on gatherings of five or more people.
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