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Thousands of Thais defy crackdown on protests in Bangkok

Thousands of Thais have joined protests across Bangkok in defiance of a crackdown on three months of demonstrations aimed at the government and the monarchy.

Police used water cannons for the first time on Friday and closed much of the city’s transport system on Saturday to try to thwart protesters, but they gathered where they could.

Tang, 27, an office worker, said she joined thousands of demonstrators at the Lat Phrao station on Saturday after seeing the pictures of police firing water cannons at young protesters, including many schoolchildren.

She said: “It was way over the line. We want to show them our power and that we can’t accept this.”. Many other protesters said they were out for the first time.

Protests have drawn tens of thousands of people to the streets to demand the removal of the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former military ruler. They have also become openly critical of King Maha Vajiralongkorn despite lese-majesty laws that can mean 15 years in jail for insulting the monarchy.

On Thursday, the government banned all political gatherings of five or more people. Police have arrested more than 50 people – including several protest leaders – in the past week.

A police spokesman Yingyos Thepjamnong said: “Violent or not, all gatherings are illegal.”

But police made no immediate attempt to stop the protest at Lat Phrao.

A government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said: “There is no win or lose for any side. It’s all damage to the country.”

The royal palace has made no comment on the protests but the king has said Thailand needed people who love the country and the monarchy.

Protesters say Prayuth engineered last year’s election to hold on to power which he seized in a 2014 coup – an accusation he denies. They say the monarchy has helped perpetuate years of political influence by the army and seeks to curb its powers.

The protesters at Lat Phrao chanted “Prayuth get out” and used the premier’s nickname “Tu”.

After being freed on bail following his arrest on Friday, the protest leader Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree said: “I condemn those who cracked down on the protesters and those who ordered it. You all have blood on your hands.”

Bail was also granted to one of two activists charged with trying to harm the queen – a rarely used charge that carries a potential life sentence – after protesters shouted at her motorcade on Wednesday.

Human rights groups have condemned the dozens of arrests and the use of force against peaceful protests.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Concerned governments and the United Nations should speak out publicly to demand an immediate end to political repression by the Prayuth administration.”

 

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