Thousands of Thai activists took to the streets of Bangkok on Thursday, violating a state of emergency order and a government ban on protests.
The protest followed a demonstration Wednesday involving tens of thousands of student-led activists who gathered outside the office of Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The protesters are demanding the resignation of Prayuth. He is a former army general who has led the country under military rule since his group seized power in 2014. The activists are also pushing for changes to the constitution and reforms of the country’s monarchy.
Late Wednesday, Prayuth declared a state of emergency that banned gatherings of more than five people. The order gives police powers to detain people temporarily without charge. It also bars the publication of news “through electronic media that can affect national security,” a government spokesman said in a statement.
After the declaration was issued, police moved in to clear out a group of demonstrators who refused to leave. Several top leaders of the protest movement were detained. One of them declared later on his Facebook page that he had been denied contact with a lawyer and was forced onto a helicopter and taken to a city in the country’s north. Police said they had made 22 arrests.
On Thursday, several thousand people gathered in a different part of the city for a new protest in violation of the emergency order. The protesters – many wearing face coverings - cheered “Prayuth get out,” and “Free our friends” as they marched down streets in a major shopping area.
Thailand had already been under a national state of emergency as part of its efforts to fight the coronavirus.
“A full-blown crisis”
Several large pro-democracy protests have happened in Thailand over the past few months. All of them – including the latest ones – have been largely peaceful. But in one incident on Wednesday, police pushed protesters away from a motorcade carrying Thailand’s Queen Suthida, The Associated Press reported.
The incident led to a moment captured in photos and video and widely shared on social media. Images appeared to show protesters gesturing and shouting just meters away from the royal motorcade. Such actions are unheard of in Thailand, where those waiting for a royal motorcade usually sit or lie on the ground as a sign of respect.
"In the past when the royals drive by, we cannot even walk around the area,” a protester who saw video of the incident told the French press agency AFP. “We have to stop everything and kneel on the ground." The protester added, "I am so surprised. It is happening now, we are changing a lot and it has moved forward. We are breaking taboos."
Thailand’s royal family is protected by laws that prevent criticism of any of its members. The laws have often been used to silence critics who risk up to 15 years in prison if they are found to have insulted the monarchy.
Michael Montesano is with the Thailand Studies Program at the ISEAS-Yusof Isak Institute in Singapore. He told the AP the Prayuth government had been dealing with the pro-democracy demonstrations “with reasonable success.” But following the incident involving the queen’s motorcade and the arrests of protest leaders, Montesano said the situation had become “a full-blown crisis.” He added, “Unlike even 48 hours ago, the country is in dangerous territory now.”
A government spokesman said Thursday the prime minister had ordered police to take strict action against anyone attempting to interfere with royal motorcades or otherwise insult the monarchy.
Student demonstrators first issued unprecedented criticism of the monarchy and issued calls for its reform at a protest gathering in August. Using direct language in public for the first time, activists criticized the wealth of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. They also questioned his influence and noted that he spends much of his time in Germany, not Thailand.
Conservative royalist Thais accuse the protest movement of seeking to end the monarchy, a charge its leaders deny.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and VOA News. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
monarchy – n. a system of government in which a country is ruled by a king and queen whose power is limited by a constitution
shopping - n. the activity of buying things for pleasure
motorcade – n. a series of cars and other motor vehicles that moves slowly along a road carrying someone important
gesture – v. to move the hands, arms, head, etc. to express an idea or feeling
royal – adj. belonging or connected to a king or queen or member of their family
kneel – v. to move your body in which a knee is on something
taboo – adj. an action that is avoided for religious or social reasons
unprecedented – adj. not done or experienced before