Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities on Saturday, defying a crackdown against a pro-democracy movement that has challenged both the king and the prime minister.
Youth-led rallies have spread across Thailand over recent months, with protesters making public demands for reform of the country’s monarchy, which is protected by a harsh lese-majesty law and which, until recently, was considered untouchable. They have also called for changes to the constitution, and the resignation of the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who first came to power during the 2014 coup.
The authorities have attempted to halt protests by introducing an emergency decree in the capital that bans gatherings of five or more people, and by arresting dozens of activists, including prominent student leaders. On Friday, the capital’s transport system was shut down, yet protesters still poured onto the streets. To outmanoeuvre the authorities, crowds assembled at several protest points across Bangkok, while rallies also took place across other Thai cities.
Some carried signs saying “stop hurting people”, after riot police used water cannon to disperse thousands of protesters, including school students, on Friday. The water contained chemical irritants that stung protesters’ eyes.
The authorities’ use of force not only provoked condemnation from human rights groups, but also appeared to spark even greater anger among protesters, driving more to join rallies.
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