BANGKOK (AP) – Pro-democracy activists in Thailand staged a fourth day of loud protests in the capital on Saturday, thwarting authorities’ efforts to stop them, including shutting down urban mass transit systems.
Unlike the protests the day before, in which police used a water cannon to disperse protesters, Saturday’s demonstrations were peaceful, with no reports of clashes as participants began heading home in the evening.
Protesters are urging Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to step down, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the nation̵
All stations of Bangkok’s elevated Skytrain transit system were closed on Saturday afternoon to try to prevent protesters from gathering. The underground MRT system was also closed and police blocked several roads.
The protesters met anyway, as planned at Skytrain stations, where they held small impromptu rallies, in fact establishing a temporary but active presence throughout the city.
The organizers then issued a new advice for followers to gather at three stations outside the city center, where access was easier. After this was announced, the money was pooled by the participants so that they could take fees to circumvent the transit stop.
“There’s nothing special we can do right now,” said a 26-year-old hotel worker who asked to be called only Veronica. “What we can do right now is just show our strength to let the outsider see.”
Several thousand people gathered in many places, some taking turns broadcasting their views through a megaphone. In the evening, the police did not disturb them, even when some groups were marching on the street. The protesters began to disperse at 8 pm, when the organizers had announced that the protests would end.
The protesters acted despite the state of emergency imposed by Prayuth on Thursday, which led to their arrest.
They do not appear to be intimidated by the crackdown on their rally in central Bangkok on Friday night, in which riot police, backed by water cannons, cleared the streets in about an hour.
No major injuries were reported from this confrontation. For the first time in three months of sporadic protests, authorities are using such strong tactics against the student-led movement.
A 20-year-old student who uses the name Rio said events on Friday night solidified his resistance.
“I respect people’s political views, but after yesterday’s incident, I think he was so rude that he used violence against unarmed people who did not have weapons to retaliate,” he said.
Protective equipment such as goggles was distributed on Saturday in some places.
The heavy scattering on Friday night prompted the People’s Party, the umbrella organization of the protesters, to say in a statement that “the government and the military have established themselves as enemies of the people.” Most of the group’s top leaders have been arrested.
The protesters are doing everything possible to avoid the authorities, using social media to gather followers before the police have time to block them. The government has announced plans to take legal action against Twitter and Facebook accounts announcing the protests, but new calls for action were issued on Saturday.
Protesters accuse Prayut, who as commander of the army led a coup in 2014 that toppled an elected government, of being unjustly returned to power in last year’s general election because laws were changed in favor of a pro-military party. Protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule and adopted in a referendum in which the campaign against it is illegal is undemocratic.
Protesters’ call for reform of the monarchy has significantly raised the political temperature in Thailand, angering much older conservative Thais, for whom any critical discussion of the royal family is tantamount to betrayal.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other key members of the royal family are protected by the lese majeste law, which is regularly used to silence critics who risk up to 15 years in prison if they are believed to have offended the institution.
The declaration of a state of emergency declared that the measure was necessary because “certain groups of perpetrators intend to incite an unfavorable incident and traffic in the Bangkok area by various methods and through various channels, including causing obstacles to the royal motorcade.”
He was referring to an incident on Wednesday that showed some members of a small crowd chelating a motorcade with Queen Sutida and Prince Dipangkorn as he passed slowly.
On Friday, two activists were arrested under a law covering violence against the queen for their alleged involvement in the incident. They could face up to life in prison if convicted. They denied any violations.