Chemical agents used on Thai protesters because palace was nearby

Water fired at protesters last month was laced with chemical irritants as widely reported yet denied by police at the time, the authorities admitted today.

A deputy police commander contradicted earlier denials in testimony to a senate committee in which he said a blue dye and tearing agent were used at an Oct. 16 rally at Pathumwan Intersection because it was within 150 meters of “an important venue,” likely referring to a nearby palace.

“When the protesters didn’t disperse and started to inflict violence, police decided to use the blue water in the second blast to identify those who violated the emergency decree,” Chawalit Ruensiri of the police crowd control unit said at a senate hearing on human rights.

There were no signs of violence from the crowd when hundreds of cops in riot gear marched on the group protesting peacefully at the intersection, where truck-mounted water cannons fired to disperse them. There’s limited evidence that some protesters resisted the police after that point.

 “When the situation didn’t stop, we used [a chemical agent] to break up the protest. I insist that the authorities took the proper course of action and followed international legal standards,” Lt. Col. Chawalit added.

While the downtown intersection is adjacent to a public art museum and major shopping malls, its proximity to a royal residence has been used in the past to step up charges filed over past protests there.

At first, Chawalit said, plain water was fired in the air and on the road as a warning to back off. Chawalit insisted the chemical agents were only fired because the police saw the possibility of violence. 

In fact, the demonstration appeared entirely peaceful until the security forces arrived to forcibly disperse it.

National police spokesperson Krissana Pattanacharoen flatly denied any irritants had been used despite numerous reports from protesters and journalists that they were.

“At first you said it was just plain water,” Perada Soiraya wrote online. “You government officials live on the people’s taxes but hurt unarmed people. Finally you have to admit the truth, the mob never caused violence. Only the government wanted it, and they got it without having a good reason.”

Thousands gathered yesterday afternoon at the Democracy Monument to march to the Grand Palace to deliver letters for King Vajiralongkorn. At about 6:30pm, when attendees arrived near the destination, police, for the first time since Oct. 16, fired water cannons at the crowd. Shortly afterward, the police apologized over a loudspeaker, telling protesters they were “sorry.” 

Angry but undeterred, protesters complained it was excessive use of force when they were “just delivering letters to the king.”


Riot police march on protesters in Bangkok, clashes erupt

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