Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 October 2020

Thai police disperse protesters outside PM's office

The demonstrators are demanding reforms to Thailand’s constitutional monarchy

Thai policemen with riot shields stand during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)
Thai policemen with riot shields stand during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Thai police on Thursday dispersed a group of pro-democracy protesters who camped out overnight outside the office of the prime minister to demand his resignation, leading to him implementing a “severe” state of emergency in the capital area.

An Associated Press journalist saw riot police advance to force out a few hundred protesters who remained outside Government House, the seat of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Protesters were seen taken being away by police.

Local media reported that the police operation came after Mr Prayuth declared a severe state of emergency in the Bangkok area to allow authorities to move against the protests.

Thailand is technically still under a state of emergency as part of coronavirus restrictions.

Before the police dispersal, a large number of protesters had left the area after one of the their leaders announced the end of the rally at Government House, although a few hundred stayed on. It was also announced that the rally would move to another location in the capital on Thursday afternoon.

The latest rally started on Wednesday, with thousands of protesters marching from Bangkok’s Democracy Monument to Government House. It was the third major gathering by activists who want to keep up the momentum in their campaign for democratic change.

The protesters have drawn attention because of their demands for reforms to Thailand’s constitutional monarchy, which they claim does not properly operate in a democratic framework.

That demand has caused a huge controversy because the royal institution has long been considered sacrosanct and a pillar of Thai identity. It is also protected by a lese majesty law that mandates three-to-15 years in prison for defaming the monarchy.

Conservative royalist Thais accuse them of seeking to end the monarchy, an allegation they deny. Before leaving Democracy Monument, several small clashes broke out between protesters and their opponents, who traded punches and threw plastic bottles as police tried to keep them apart.

The protest movement was launched in March by university students but quickly put on hold as Thailand was gripped by surges in coronavirus cases. It came back in July, when the threat from the virus eased, and since then has again been spearheaded by students and publicised on social media.

A riot policeman talks with an elderly women as protesters are dispersed in Bangkok, Thailand. AP
A riot policeman talks with an elderly women as protesters are dispersed in Bangkok, Thailand. AP

The movement’s original core demands were new elections, changes in the constitution to make it more democratic, and an end to intimidation of activists.

The protesters charge that Prayuth, who as army commander led a 2014 coup that toppled an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party. Protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule is undemocratic.

Updated: October 15, 2020 08:05 AM

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