Thailand’s government on Thursday imposed a strict State of Emergency in the state capital, a day after students protesting against age-long rot in the system rattled a royal convoy.
After the declaration had been made, riot police moved in to forcefully disperse protesting crowds, including employing the use of water cannons. The protesters, undeterred, had gathered outside Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s to make demands which include sweeping reforms such as a change in the constitution, reform of the monarchy, and the resignation of the prime minister himself.
Several top figures leading the protests have been taken into custody. One of the leaders made a post on Facebook, where he declared that the state has denied him access to his lawyers and that he was being transported to an undisclosed location in the north region of the country.
Even the ban on public gatherings did not deter protesters, as they defied the government and turned out in their thousands. The rally drew more than 8,000 protesters and lasted six hours, starting shortly after 10 pm.
Organizers said they would never be intimidated by the police. A protest organizer, Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon, said that as more arrests are being made, more people will be emboldened into joining the protest to replace them and even speak out even more loudly. The police said that they had made 22 arrests so far.
In a country where the monarchy is revered and taken as sacrosanct, protesters registered their displeasure at this institution. On Friday, they jeered at the convoy transporting King MahaVajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida. It was a case of defiance for a country where harsh consequences are reserved for anyone caught criticizing the monarchy.
The anger of the protesters is mostly directed at the country’s prime minister, a former general. He had seized power from a constitutionally-elected government in 2014. He and his fellow generals rewrote the constitution. The new constitution gave the military-wide range of power, including the power to appoint members of the senate. Prayuth had won re-election as premier last year in a controversial election.
Now, the protesters are asking for a new constitution – with no input from the military. They want the monarchy to assign new roles with less power. The palace is often perceived as the beehive of corruption from ill-gotten wealth from the country’s commonwealth. The king has a vast empire and is mostly out of the country.
Spraying water cannons at protesters were deemed a new low for the government. The protesters were dressed in water-proof coats and carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the powerful rush of water from police vehicles.
They chanted “get out, get out” at the police and also prayed the authorities to release their friends – a group of more than 40 protesters who were arrested recently.
Some of the protesters were sprayed with water containing blue dye. This is to mark protesters for possible arrest later on. The protesters said the water also contained skin and eye irritant. Many protesters were seen trying to flush their eyes with clean water.
The police authorities, speaking through spokesman Yingyot Thepchammong, said that protesters who failed to listen to warnings about engaging in illegalities would be treated with harsher measures.