Thailand’s prime minister declared a “serious” state of emergency in Bangkok as police and soldiers dispersed demonstrators on Thursday, marking the start of a crackdown on a student-led protest movement.
In an announcement published in Thailand’s Royal Gazette, the government said it took the measure because of “an action that had an impact on a royal motorcade” carrying members of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s family, as well as national security and economic considerations.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha declared the state of emergency after about 10,000 anti-government protesters rallied at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on Wednesday before marching to Government House. At the seat of the Thai government they broke through police barricades and surrounded the building, pressing their demand for the resignation of Mr Prayuth’s administration.
Protesters also jeered and taunted Queen Suthida, the wife of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, as she passed within metres of demonstrators. Taunting the queen is an unheard of affront in a country where the monarchy is shielded from public criticism by strict defamation and other laws.
Human Rights Watch said that Anon Nampa and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, two of the protest movement’s leaders, had been arrested. The rights group was waiting for confirmation on the status of other protest leaders.
“It appears that various groups of people have persuaded, incited and carried out a public gathering which is against the public gathering act in Bangkok, creating turbulence, chaos and disorder for people,” Mr Prayuth said in the announcement.
“There was an action that had an impact on a royal motorcade,” he added. “There are reasonable grounds to believe that there have been severe acts affecting the national security, life and property of the state or of individuals.”
In declaring the emergency, Mr Prayuth said the government was using powers granted under a 2005 emergency act, which it invoked in March at the beginning of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
His announcement added that Wednesday’s protest was illegal and affected “the achievements of the anti-Covid-19 measures, which directly impacts the economic stability of the country, which is already in a fragile state”. Footage on social media sites showed riot police entering the protest area at about 5am on Thursday and pressuring demonstrators to disperse.
Thailand’s youthful protesters began near-daily demonstrations in July and are demanding Mr Prayuth’s resignation, the writing of a new constitution and limits on the monarchy’s powers and wealth. The protests have been peaceful but on Tuesday there were scuffles when Thai authorities broke up a demonstration and arrested participants near where the royal motorcade was due to pass.
On Wednesday, large numbers of young men wearing crew cuts and yellow shirts, who protesters accused of being policemen, gathered near the site where demonstrators were rallying, signalling a show of force by the regime against the three-month-old protest movement. Bangkok police said that gatherings of five or more people had been banned and warned people not to organise further protests.