Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered again in the Thai capital Bangkok on Thursday in mass defiance of the government which had issued a decree banning demonstrations.
The protesters cheered and chanted peacefully, eventually dispersing several hours after a new 6pm curfew.
They called for the release of at least 20 activists arrested on Thursday in a sweeping crackdown by police.
Many made a three-finger salute – a symbol of the protest movement.
After peacefully leaving the site of the demonstration at Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong Intersection, the protesters vowed to return on Friday at 17:00 local time (10:00 GMT).
This week saw the first protests of this movement take place while King Maha Vajiralongkorn was in the country – significantly raising the stakes. The king, who now spends most of his time abroad, has returned from Germany for several weeks.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, the government had attempted to curtail the student-led protest movement by issuing an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people and arresting about 20 activists – taking the total number of arrests this week to about 40.
Several key protest leaders were among those arrested, including human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, student activist Parit Chiwarak – widely known by his nickname “Penguin” – and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul.
In a widely watched livestream video, officers were seen reading out charges to Ms Panusaya in a hotel room. Another video showed police putting her into a car as she and her supporters chanted slogans.
The protest movement they have helped lead began by calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha – a former army chief who seized power in a 2014 coup and was appointed premier after controversial elections last year – and has expanded since to call for curbs on the powers of the king.
The calls for royal reforms are particularly sensitive in Thailand, where criticism of the monarchy is punishable by long prison sentences.
‘We are fighting till our deaths’
The months of protests leading up to the emergency decree issued on Thursday represent the biggest challenge in years to Thailand’s establishment, which is dominated by the military and royal palace. On Wednesday, protesters jeered and held up the three-finger salute as a motorcade passed carrying the queen through Bangkok.
The proximity of the demonstration to the royal convoy was cited by the government in a televised address as one of the reasons for the emergency decree. But the protesters ignored the new rules on Thursday afternoon to once again gather in their thousands.
“Like dogs cornered, we are fighting till our deaths,” Panupong “Mike Rayong” Jadnok, one the high-profile protest leaders who remains free, told the crowd. “We won’t fall back. We won’t run away. We won’t go anywhere.”
Police appealed to the crowd to disperse, eventually setting a 18:00 curfew. “The people who came know that there is a ban against public gathering of five or more,” said police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen. “We will take things step by step.”
Courtesy – BBC