Thai PM rejects calls to quit as protests escalate

Two Thai protesters could face life imprisonment for violence against the Queen

Thai police with riot shields take position in a business district where anti-government protesters said they will meet in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.

It was the second day of protests amid wider and growing anti-government sentiment in recent months, and an unprecedented challenge to the country's long-standing monarchy.

Tens of thousands of Thai pro-democracy protesters rallied across Bangkok Saturday, defying an emergency decree banning gatherings for a third consecutive day to demand the resignation of the prime minister and reform of the powerful monarchy.

The Royal Palace has not commented on the protests, but King Maha Vajiralongkorn has said the country needs people who love the monarchy and the country. The protests have been called in defiance of a state of emergency imposed on 15 October.

The unrest in Thailand garnered worldwide interest, with "Mob October 17" - referring to the Bangkok protests - taking the number one hashtag globally on Saturday with nearly three million tweets.

Deputy metropolitan police chief Jirasan Kaewsaeng-ek said Ratchadamri Road will be closed from Ratchadamri to Pratunam intersections, while the Chidlom-Ratchaprasong stretch of Ploenchit Road will be shut down as well, starting 2pm. Organisers had called for their followers to meet at Skytrain stations pending further instructions.

But police made no immediate attempt to stop the protest at Lat Phrao. It was the first time in three months of sporadic protests that the authorities have employed such forceful tactics against the student-led movement.

"Right now we can do nothing much", said a 26-year-old hotel worker who asked to be called only Veronica.

Police took control of the rally site after about an hour, though continued to engage with some stragglers.

He added that the government is preparing several measures to deal with protesters and that the measures would be applied based on the seriousness of the disturbances.

He was quick to go live on Facebook to denounce the use of violence against unarmed protesters.

About 3,000 demonstrators in the city's main shopping mall district demanded the release of arrested protesters, and some shouted obscenities against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha before they were dispersed by police. Breaking a longstanding taboo, protesters have also called for curbs on the power of the monarchy. It's angered many older conservative Thais for whom any critical discussion of the monarchy is tantamount to treason. Nightly TV news on the royal family showed him addressing former members of the long-defunct Communist Party of Thailand who had been given land as part of a reconciliation program in the late 1970s under the patronage of Vajiralongkorn's father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Prayuth said Friday that he had no plans to resign as he had done nothing wrong. He claimed this was because "certain groups of perpetrators meant 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".

Earlier on Friday, two activists were arrested under a rarely used law banning violence against the queen because they were among a group surrounding a royal motorcade on We dnesday during a large demonstration. They could face up to life in prison if convicted. They denied any wrongdoing.

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