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Police Crack Down on Protesters as Thai PM Refuses to Resign

Pro democracy demonstrators face water canons as police try to clear the protest venue in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 16, 2020.
Pro democracy demonstrators face water canons as police try to clear the protest venue in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 16, 2020.

Thailand’s prime minister dismissed calls for his resignation Friday as protesters defied a ban to rally in the capital, Bangkok, for the second day amid a violent police crackdown.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha declared a state of emergency in response to the civil strife led by students, who are demanding his resignation and reforms to the country’s constitutional monarchy.

Prayuth said Friday the measure was necessary because “certain groups of perpetrators intended to instigate an untoward incident and movement in the Bangkok area by way of various methods and via different channels, including causing obstruction to the royal motorcade.”

He said Friday he had no plans to resign as he had done nothing wrong. He said his government hopes it can drop the state of emergency ahead of its normal 30-day duration “if the situation improves quickly.”

To quell the protests, police armed with water cannons laced with a chemical irritant charged at the crowd, dispersing protesters, onlookers and reporters. Journalists who were hit by the water said it caused a stinging sensation and was dyed blue, to mark protesters for possible later arrest.

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 because of 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 divinelike status among Thailand’s elite, and is protected by strict “lese majeste” laws, which imposes prison sentences for anyone convicted of insulting the king.

Protesters shouted at a motorcade carrying King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida as it drove past a 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.

A number of protest leaders have been rounded up since the state of emergency went into effect. On Friday another two activists were arrested under a law covering violence against the queen for their alleged part in the heckling of the motorcade. They could face up to life in prison if convicted.

The Ministry of Digital Economy also announced it would pursue cases against five Twitter accounts and five Facebook accounts for inviting people to attend Friday’s rally, an action deemed illegal under the state of emergency, as well as other laws.

The legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said at least 51 people have been arrested since Tuesday in connection with the protests.