Thai police fired stinging liquid from water cannon at thousands of Thai protesters yesterday in the most violent escalation of three months of demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, who refused to bow to pressure.
Protesters, defying a government ban on gatherings for a second day, pushed back against helmeted police who advanced with batons and riot shields.
Youth-led protests have grown into the biggest challenge in years to a political establishment dominated by military figures and the Royal Palace of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The king has made no direct comment on the protests, but in comments broadcast on state television, he said Thailand “needs people who love the country and love the monarchy”.
Until now, police had not used major force to suppress peaceful protests, although more than 40 demonstrators – including several leaders – have been arrested in the past week.
The government banned political gatherings of more than five people on Thursday.
“I’m not quitting,” Prayuth told reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting, adding that emergency measures would be in force for up to 30 days.
Calls have also built up among protesters for reforms to the monarchy, which is accused by protesters of helping to entrench decades of military influence in politics.
Police yesterday said that two men would be charged with attempted violence against the queen, which carries a possible death sentence if her life is thought to have been threatened. Even if not, the charge can mean life in jail.
The office of the United Nations’ High Commissioner said it was concerned about the situation in Thailand, especially the application of serious charges, including sedition, against people peacefully exercising their rights.❐