Hundreds of Thai protesters yesterday gathered in defiance of a sweeping crackdown after authorities moved to crush months of pro-democracy demonstrations by imposing emergency powers and rounding up the leaders of the movement.
Protesters chanted “Prayuth get out” and “Free our friends” as they confronted police at Ratchaprasong, a busy junction in central Bangkok, despite a new decree banning groups of more than four people.
Student leaders had earlier taken to social media to urge supporters to take to the streets.
The government of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief who initially took power in a 2014 coup, has been the target of mounting, student-led protests which are also taking aim at the nation’s unassailable monarchy.
After the emergency measures were announced, riot police dispersed hundreds of protesters who camped overnight outside the prime minister’s office.
Three of the movement’s leaders were among nearly two dozen arrested, including Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, said Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, another prominent figure whose own arrest was streamed live on Facebook.
Anon Numpa said that he was forcibly taken by helicopter to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand “without my lawyer.”
“This is a violation of my rights and is extremely dangerous to me,” he wrote on Facebook.
It was not immediately clear how those arrested were accessing their social media accounts.
There had been unprecedented scenes on Wednesday when protesters crowded around the royal motorcade carrying Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn, raising the three-fingered gesture of defiance adopted from The Hunger Games books and movies.
“In the past when the royals drive by, we cannot even walk around the area. We have to stop everything and kneel on the ground,” a protester said. “I am so surprised. It is happening now, we are changing a lot and it has moved forward. We are breaking taboos.”
The emergency measures also allow the seizure of “electronic communications equipment, data and weapons suspected to cause the emergency situation,” a Thai government spokesman said in a statement.
“These are orders banning gatherings of five or more people ... and banning distributing of news through electronic media that can affect national security,” the spokesman said.
Leading opposition figure Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit decried the crackdown, calling for the government to “free all arrested people.”
“The government must quickly find a way to respond to protesters’ demands, otherwise the situation will fan out nationwide,” he said.
The protest leaders have repeatedly said that they wish only for the monarchy to adapt to modern times. Their demands include the abolition of a strict royal defamation law — which shields the king from criticism — and for the monarch to stay out of politics.
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