Thailand’s prime minister has declared a state of emergency in response to massive protests demanding his resignation and reforms of the country’s constitutional monarchy.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha signed the decree late Wednesday night after tens of thousands of protesters marched on his office at Government House in Bangkok hours earlier, vowing not to leave until he agreed to step down. Shortly after the emergency was declared, police dispersed the crowd and arrested more than 20 people who refused to leave, including protest leaders Arnon Nampha and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.
Authorities warned protesters not to go ahead with a planned demonstration in the Thai capital on Thursday.
Prayuth is a former army general who seized power in a 2014 coup that ousted the elected civilian government. He won election to the post last year, but protesters say the vote was rigged in his favor due to laws drafted by the military.
In addition to changes to the constitution drafted by the military, the demonstrators are also seeking to reduce the influence of the Thai monarchy. The institution maintains divine-like status among Thailand’s elite, and is protected by strict “lese majeste” laws which imposes prison sentences for anyone convicted of insulting the monarchy.
Protesters shouted at a motorcade carrying King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida as it drove past the crowd Wednesday and held up a three-fingered salute, a symbol of defiance borrowed from the popular U.S. Hunger Games books and film trilogy.