Thai king encounters defiant protesters now pushing onto Gov’t House

Protesters early Wednesday evening push on in sight of their prize: Thailand’s Government House. At right, they greet the passing royal motorcade.
Protesters early Wednesday evening push on in sight of their prize: Thailand’s Government House. At right, they greet the passing royal motorcade.

Thailand’s military government gave its strongest response yet to those opposing its rule by fielding hundreds of yellow-clad royalists to a protest march where King Vajiralongkorn faced, likely for the first time, those calling for checks on his power.

After a tense morning that saw scuffles provoked by a royalist contingent brought into the capital by bus and truck, thousands of protesters set out from the Democracy Monument to march on the military administration’s seat of power at the Government House about 1.6 kilometers away. As of 6:30pm, the jubilant crowd had reached the building and was trying to push its way inside, about an hour after hundreds flashed three-finger salutes of defiance at a motorcade carrying the queen as it passed by. The king had been seated with her less than an hour earlier as it moved through the area. 

There was no clear precedent for such an open display of anger toward an institution long held up as unassailable and shielded by strict anti-defamation laws.

No crowd estimates were available, but it appeared to be well over 10,000 people and outnumbered the royalist counter-protesters.

A 59-year-old civil servant said he came from Khon Kaen last night to show his opposition to dictatorship. Identifying himself only as Pongthep, he had prepared three signs reading, “Prayuth, get out,” “Don’t let them fool you,” and “People unite against the dictatorship.”

LIVE UPDATES: Protesters, police, pro-royalists clash in run-up to Thai rally (Photos)

The People’s Party announced early Wednesday morning it would move up the gathering time at the Democracy Monument to 8am because unspecified groups were “trying to take control of the area” in advance. Later in the morning, men in yellow shirts and police crew cuts, thought to be members of the security forces, began converging on the protest site, sparking moments of confrontation.

“Speaking up costs us a lot of things in this country,” organizers said in a statement this morning. “Brave activists and students who have come forward to voice their rightful critique against the junta have faced dire consequences, some were threatened, some were attacked, and some were forced to disappear.”

Photos posted to social media suggested that yellow-clad men and women were being brought into the capital by truck and bus.

Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa this morning exhorted the authorities through a megaphone not to use violence against protesters prior to setting out on the march to demand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s resignation.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, police used force to disperse an advance rally held Tuesday afternoon, arresting 21 protesters. Images showed police kicking, punching and pushing some protesters to the ground. One movement leader, Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattarasaksa, was dragged off bodily by officers.

All 21 were being detained at the 1st Region Patrol Police Division in Pathum Thani province.

Thai government not sweating rally targeting its seat of power: deputy PM

Human Rights Watch called on the authorities to drop all charges and immediately release those arrested.

“The Thai government’s breakup of a peaceful democracy protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument just proved the protesters’ point,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, adding that it raised “serious concerns that the government will impose even harsher repression of people’s fundamental freedoms in Thailand.”

The monument remains a potent symbol, as today marks the 47th anniversary of a 1973 uprising against the military dictatorship of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn. Dozens of protesters were gunned down but the backlash succeeded in bringing down Thanom.

Additional reporting Thitima Sukontaros

Correction: This story has been updated to denote that King Vajiralongkorn was not in the car with the queen at the moment it drove past protesters.

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