BANGKOK (AP) – Pro-Democratic activists in Thailand held a fourth-day in a row with high-profile protests in the capital on Saturday, thwarting government efforts to stop them, including a closure of the city’s mass transit systems.
Unlike protests a day earlier, in which police used a water cannon to disperse protesters, Saturday’s demonstrations were peaceful with no reports of any clashes as participants began on their way home in the evening.
Protesters are urging Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the nation̵
All stations in Bangkok’s elevated Skytrain transport system were closed on Saturday afternoon to try to prevent protesters from gathering. The underground MRT system was also shut down and police blocked several roads.
Protesters still met as planned at the Skytrain stations, where they held small impromptu rallies, which actually established a temporary but active presence throughout the city.
The organizers then issued a new piece of advice for followers to gather at three stations outside the city’s central area, where access was easier. When it was announced, the money was collected by the participants so that they could take taxis to get around the closing of transit.
“Right now we can not do much,” said a 26-year-old hotel worker who asked to be called only Veronica. “What we can do right now is only to show our power to let the outside see.”
Several thousand people gathered in several places, with some taking turns broadcasting their views over a megaphone. In the evening, the police had not disturbed them, even when some groups took to the streets. Protesters began to disperse at. 20, the time the organizers had said the protests would end.
The protesters acted despite a state of emergency from Prayuth on Thursday, making them all subject to arrest.
They also did not appear to be cowed by an attack on their demonstration in central Bangkok on Friday night, where rebel police backed by water cannons cleared the streets in about an hour.
No major injuries were reported from this confrontation. It was the first time in three months of sporadic protests that the authorities have used such forceful tactics against the student-led movement.
A 20-year-old student using the name Ryo said the events of Friday night had hardened his opposition.
“I respect people’s political opinions, but after yesterday’s incident, I feel it was so harsh and used violence against unarmed people who had no weapons to fight,” he said.
Protective equipment such as goggles were distributed Saturday in some places.
Friday night’s violent spread prompted the People’s Party, the protesters’ umbrella organization, to declare in a statement that “the government and the military have established themselves as the enemy of the people,” Most of the group’s top leaders have been arrested.
The protesters have done their best to evade the authorities by using social media to gather supporters before the police have time to block them. The government has announced plans to sue Twitter and Facebook accounts announcing the protests, but new calls for action were announced on Saturday.
Protesters accuse Prayuth, who as army commander led a coup in 2014 that overthrew an elected government, was unfairly returned to power in last year’s parliamentary elections because laws had been changed to favor a military pro-party. Protesters say a constitution issued under military rule and adopted during a referendum in which campaigning against it was illegal is undemocratic.
The protesters’ call for reform of the monarchy has significantly raised the political temperature in Thailand and has angered many older conservative Thais, for whom any critical discussion of the royal family amounts to treason.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other important members of the royal family are protected by a majestic law that has been regularly used to pose critics who risk up to 15 years in prison if deemed insulting the institution.
Prayuth’s declaration of state of emergency said the measure was necessary because “certain groups of perpetrators intended to incite an unintentional incident and movement in the Bangkok area using various methods and through various channels, including causing obstruction of the royal motorcade. “
He referred to an incident on Wednesday that showed some members of a small crowd snatching a motorcade with Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn as it slowly passed by.
On Friday, two activists were arrested under a law on violence against the queen for their alleged part in the incident. They could face life in prison if convicted. They denied any wrongdoing.