Thailand protests: Country faces 'full-blown crisis', expert warns

Thailand is in ‘dangerous territory’ and faces a ‘full-blown crisis’, expert warns, as anti-royal protesters face off with police a day after defying the king with three-fingered salutes

  • Thai protesters have defied police and returned to the streets, demanding reform of monarchy and country
  • Crowds faced off with riot officers in central Bangkok just hours after state of emergency was declared
  • Activists gave police three-fingered salute, the same defiant gesture faced by the country’s king Wednesday 
  • Analyst warned defiance of monarch means country faces ‘full-blown crisis’ and is in ‘dangerous territory’  

Thailand has entered ‘dangerous territory’ and is facing a ‘full-blown crisis’, an expert has warned, after anti-monarchist protesters openly defied the king with three-fingered salutes.

Marchers returned to the streets of Bangkok on Thursday despite a state of emergency being declared overnight, a day after confronting King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suditha as they passed through the capital in a motorcade.

Protesters want the prime minister – a holdover from the military junta – to resign and a new constitution put in place, but it is their defiance of the country’s usually-revered monarch that has caught international attention.

Images of protesters standing alongside the royal limousine and raising Hunger Games-inspired salutes – a symbol of defiance to an authoritarian regime – are highly provocative in a country where people typically sit or lay down in the presence of the king. 

‘What seemed to be a low-boil stalemate that the Prayuth government was managing with reasonable success has now… become a full-blown crisis,’ said Michael Montesano, of the ISEAS-Yusof Isak Institute in Singapore. 

‘Unlike even 48 hours ago, the country is in dangerous territory now.’ 

Thais have taken to the street of Bangkok for a second consecutive day of protests demanding reform of the country’s government and monarchy, in defiance of police orders

A man raises his fist in the air as he speaks during a protests in downtown Bangkok on Thursday, just hours after riot police cleared demonstrators off the streets

Scuffles broke out between police and activists as some were arrested, a day after an emergency decree was put in place banning gatherings of more than five people

A protester screams as police drag him to the floor and arrest him during anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok

Clashes break out between Thai riot officers and demonstrators in downtown Bangkok during a second day of protests

Activists hold their hands up to police showing their peaceful intentions as protests continue in Bangkok for a second day

A protester is led away by police as demonstrations continue in Bangkok for a second day, with experts warning that Thailand is now facing a ‘full-blown crisis’

Queen Suditha looked distinctly nervous (left and right) as she waved to the crowds from the royal limousine, while riding alongside husband King Vajiralongkorn

Protesters have adopted the three-finger salute gesture from the Hunger Games books, where it is used as a symbol of defiance by an oppressed population against an authoritarian ruling class 

Activists continued to give three-fingered salutes in defiance of the government and monarch, leading an expert to warn that the country has now entered ‘dangerous territory’

Protesters occupy one of the main thoroughfares in downtown Bangkok, as they face off with police just hours after riot officers cleared them off the streets

Police armed with riot shields face off with demonstrators in Bangkok on a second continuous day of protests aimed at reforming the government and the monarchy

Experts warn that openly defying the monarch, who is typically revered in Thai society, has pushed the country into ‘dangerous territory’ and left it facing a ‘full-blown crisis’

Pro-democracy protesters hold up three fingers in a gesture inspired by the Hunger Games, where it symbolises defiance by oppressed people against an authoritarian ruling class

Thai authorities declared a strict new state of emergency for the capital on Thursday, a day after a student-led protest against the country’s traditional establishment saw an extraordinary moment in which demonstrators heckled a royal motorcade. 

After the pre-dawn declaration, riot police moved in to clear out demonstrators who after a day of rallies and confrontation had gathered outside Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s office to push their demands, which include the former general’s stepping down, constitutional changes and reform of the monarchy.

Several top leaders of the protest movement were taken into custody, with one later declaring on his Facebook page that he had been denied access to a lawyer and was being forced onto a helicopter and taken to a city in the country’s north. Police said they had made 22 arrests.

The text of the emergency declaration said it was needed 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.’

The protest Wednesday in Bangkok’s historic district, not far from glittering temples and royal palaces, was the third major gathering by student-led activists who have been pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable – and legal – language by publicly questioning the role of Thailand’s monarchy in the nation’s power structure.

Thailand’s royal family has long been considered sacrosanct and a pillar of Thai identity. King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other key member of the royal family are protected by a lese majeste law that has regularly been used to silence critics who risk up to 15 years in prison if deemed to have insulted the institution.

Police and protesters come face-to-face at an intersection in downtown Bangkok that has become a focal point of the second day of anti-government demonstrations

Police officers surround a group of seated demonstrators as they occupy part of central Bangkok to protest the government

Cars carrying protesters and loudspeakers as the crowd gives them three-finger salutes in central Bangkok

People show the three-finger salute during anti-government protests in Bangkok

Schoolchildren appeared to be joining the protest in Bangkok as they arrived still wearing their uniforms

A pro-democracy protester gestures in front of the police in Bangkok as clashes broke out

Pro-democracy protesters push back the police as they occupy part of downtown Bangkok

A demonstrator has his face squashed as police try to push back the crowd in downtown Bangkok

Police cars are seen among people showing the three-finger salute during anti-government protests

Police officers wade through the crowd as they attempt to regain control of downtown Bangkok

The protest – held on the anniversary of a 1973 student-led uprising against a military dictatorship – was complicated by the presence of royalist counter protesters who had gathered both to show support for the government and to greet the royal family as they traveled to and from a religious ceremony in the area.  

Government spokesman Anucha Buraphachaisri announced Thursday morning that the prime minister had ordered police to take strict action against those who obstruct a royal procession or otherwise insult the monarchy.

Keeping order will be facilitated by the new emergency decree for Bangkok, which bans unauthorized gatherings of more than five people and gives authorities other powers they deem needed to prevent unrest, including detaining people at length without charge. 

It also outlaws the news that distorts information or could cause a ‘misunderstanding.’

Thailand is already under a national state of emergency as part of its efforts to fight the coronavirus, and it was not immediately clear how the new decree was different.

One change is that police said they will install checkpoints around Bangkok for security purposes.

Protesters were undaunted and said they would gather again in a Bangkok shopping district Thursday afternoon.

Deputy police spokesman Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen warned that calling for such a protest or attending one was against the law.

‘You cannot say that they are not aware of the order. We are making it clear,’ Kissana said at a news conference. 

Human rights group Amnesty International criticized the crackdown. Its deputy regional director Ming Yu Hah urged Thai authorities to ‘engage in constructive dialogue with the protesters.’

‘The scale of today’s early morning arrests seems completely unjustified based on yesterday’s events. The assemblies were overwhelmingly peaceful. 

Pro-democracy protesters hold up the three-finger salute gather on a traffic intersection in Bangkok

Pro-democracy protesters confront police during a rally on a traffic intersection in Bangkok

A pro-democracy protester holds up a sign next to a police vehicle carrying barbed wire during a rally

Pro-democracy protesters hold up the three-finger salute as they gather on a crosswalk in Bangkok

Pro-democracy protesters hold up the three-finger salute next to security forces in central Bangkok

A pro-democracy protester holds up a banner during a rally in Bangkok

Police line up in front of pro-democracy protesters gathering for a rally on a traffic intersection in Bangkok

Police stand arms linked as they face off with pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok

Police officers are seen during anti-government protests, in Bangkok

These moves are clearly designed to stamp out dissent, and sow fear in anyone who sympathizes with the protesters’ views,’ the group said in a statement.

The protest movement was launched in March by university students, but quickly put on hold as Thailand was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic. It came back in July, when the threat from the virus eased, and since grown in size.

The movement’s original core demands were new elections, changes in the constitution to make it more democratic, and an end to intimidation of activists.

The protesters charge that Prayuth, who as army commander led a 2014 coup that toppled an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. 

The protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule and passed in a referendum in which campaigning against it was illegal is undemocratic.

The movement took another stunning turn in August, when students at a rally aired unprecedented criticism of the monarchy and issued calls for its reform. Airing their grievances in direct language normally expressed in whispers, the speakers criticized the king’s wealth, his influence and that he spends much of his time in Germany, not Thailand.

Conservative royalist Thais accuse the protest movement of seeking to end the monarchy, an allegation its leaders deny.

Nevertheless, analysts say the incident with the royal motorcade may harden positions.

It ‘is not just unprecedented but will be shocking for many,’ said Kevin Hewison, professor emeritus from the University of North Carolina and veteran Thai studies scholar. 

‘Yet it is reflective of how a new generation of protesters sees the monarchy and military-backed regime as intertwined and that political reform demands reform of the monarchy as well.’  

Hundreds of Thai riot police stand on either side of a Bangkok street as police water cannon trucks drive down the road ahead of protests on the 47th anniversary of the 1973 student uprising

Clashes on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning between protesters and riot police during anti-government protests have been quelled, as an emergency decree was announced to combat the demonstrations

Shortly after the emergency decree took affect at 4 a.m. (2100 GMT), riot police advanced behind shields on protesters who had camped outside Government House in Bangkok (pictured)

The decree also prohibits ‘publication of news, other media, and electronic information that contains messages that could create fear or intentionally distort information creating misunderstanding that will affect national security or peace and order’. Pictured: Police officers stand in position during a protest in the early hours of Thursday morning in Bangkok

Some protesters tried to resist with makeshift barricades of garbage cans, but they were swiftly pushed back. By dawn, hundreds of police occupied the nearby streets and city workers began cleaning up

Thai protesters confronted a motorcade carrying their king and queen with three-fingered salutes in defiance of their rule as the royal couple paid a rare visit to the country they rule this week

The limousine was flanked by policemen who ran alongside to keep protesters – who are demanding reform of the royal family – away from the vehicle and the royal couple

King Vajiralongkorn is paying a rare visit to Thailand from Germany – where he spends most of his time living among a harem of wives – to mark the fourth anniversary of his father’s death

Source: Read Full Article