Thai protesters come to blows with police at a rally near king’s palace


Thai demonstrators clash with police on Saturday near the King’s Palace in Bangkok as they called for the release of protest leaders while demanding the reform of the monarchy.

Hundreds of police in riot gear and shields used water cannon and charged toward protesters to push them away from the Grand Palace. In some places they faced off with protesters who threw firecrackers.

“We will arrest anyone on the streets,” police said over loudspeakers as more than 1,000 protesters had gathered near the palace in Bangkok in an area known as Sanam Luang, or Royal Field.

Multiple lines of police using shields, batons, rubber bullets and tear gas advanced, pushing people back as they detained five protesters, police deputy spokesman Kissana Pattanacharoen told reporters.

“We repeatedly issued warnings before escalating our response,” he said, adding that protesters used metal bars and threw stones and marbles.

The demonstrations come after parliament this week failed to pass a bill to rewrite the military-backed constitution, one of the protesters’ main demands.

Meanwhile, the mass trial for protest leaders began this week against activists who were accused of sedition and insulting the monarchy.

“We’re demanding real democracy and not a government that says it is elected but comes from the army,” said a man who gave his name only as Kung, 60. “The world has changed and we want the same kind of monarchy as in Western countries.”

A portrait of the king near the protest area was defaced.

Police deputy spokesman Kissana Pattanacharoen said earlier that protests were illegal and violated laws to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Thailand’s youth protest movement has posed the biggest challenge so far to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Protesters say he engineered a process that would preserve the political status quo and keep him in power after a 2019 election.

Protesters also broke a traditional taboo by demanding reform of the monarchy, saying the constitution drafted by the military after the 2014 coup gives the king too much power.

The Royal Palace has declined to directly comment on the protests, but Prayut and government officials have said that criticism of the king is unlawful and inappropriate. (Source: CNA)