Police have been taken aback by the huge amount of support for a protest at Bangkok’s famous Ratchaprasong Intersection, the site of the 2015 Erawan Shrine bombing incident where 20 people died. Bangkok, currently under a State of Emergency, declared by the Thai government in the early hours of this morning, is on edge this evening as huge crowds swarmed into the city’s main shopping precinct.
At this stage the protesters have filled a large chunk of Ratchadamri Road after being blocked by police to assemble at the Ratchaprasong Intersection. The estimate of 5,000 participants is from 2 leading news sites but is not official. As of mid evening, around 9pm, the protest shows no sign of dissipating.
Large numbers of university and school students also headed to the intersection to join in following their classes today. Most were still in their school uniforms and even proudly posed to police whose main ‘weapon’ was their cameras which they say will help them identify protesters and supporters.
This afternoon’s protest at Ratchaprasong Intersection is in defiance of the State of Emergency which stated that not more than 5 people could assemble following the declaration. Although no official estimates are currently available, there are more like 5,000+ attending this evening’s assembly, rather than 5.
People attending the protest were openly displaying the 3 finger salute, the defiant symbol of these protests, and yelled “release our friends” and “down with dictatorship” at the attending police. In the early hours of this morning more than 20 people were arrested in relation to yesterday’s protest and march.
After being initially blocked by police, the crowd moved onto the adjacent Ratchadamri Road. One of the busiest intersections in the city, the city’s afternoon peak was thrown into confusion.
Protesters also shouted “my tax money” – a controversial chant that was yelled at a yellow Rolls Royce as it passed through the protest route late yesterday afternoon in a 200 metre-long motorcade.
Rally leaders diffused this afternoon’s rising tensions by urging the protesters for “calm” and emphasised a non-violent approach to this and their other protests. So far, over the 3 months of protests, restraint has been shown on both sides and, despite a few minor scuffles, there has been no major violence or injuries.
Police were deployed to the intersection and were in force by 4pm when the crowd began to swell.
Meanwhile, news started to spread that Arnon Nampa, one of the protest organisers and a human-rights lawyer, had been flown back to Chiang Mai to face “sedition charges” following rallies in Chiang Mai and Pathum Thani in August and September where he spoke out against Thailand’s monarchy, calling for reform.
Arnon posted he had been denied access to a lawyer on his Facebook page, shortly before it was taken down.
Meanwhile, 3 police, including one officer charged with overseeing crowd control during yesterday’s royal motorcade, have been transferred to inactive posts. They’ve been identified as deputy chief Metropolitan Police Somprasong Yenthuam, the city’s 1st division commander Prasai Jittasonthi, and Security and Crowd Control Commander Manop Sukonthanapat.
Reasons for their removal have not been officially made public but it has been widely leaked that their side-lining is linked to the failure of police to clear protesters from Phitsanulok Road yesterday afternoon before a royal motorcade, including Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, passed along the same route as the protesters, on their way to a religious ceremony at War Arun.
Video footage from yesterday clearly shows the angry protesters shouting slogans and swearing at the passing yellow Rolls Royce, just metres away from the car, whilst police ran along the side of the vehicle trying to clear the way as they went, forming a chain of defence. Some of this footage can be seen in today’s Thailand News Today.
Just after 4am this morning, an order was issued by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, under the terms of the current emergency decree, for a State of Emergency in Bangkok, citing, in part, “obstruction to the royal motorcade”.
No protesters stood in the way of the motorcade, according to numerous reports from yesterday’s incident. Some commentators are questioning the timing and route taken by the royal motorcade. Before his arrest today, protest leader Arnon Nampa, responding to the speculation, said that the police brought the motorcade towards the protesters, not the other way around. He suggested the situation had been staged to make the protesters look bad.
As the evening drags on in Bangkok, there are no signs of the crowds diminishing in the city’s central shopping district.
Screencapture from live stream on Facebook/FreeYouth this evening around 8.40pm