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Thousands defy Thai crackdown after emergency decree and arrests

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Riot police walk to disperse pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok yesterday after Thailand issued an emergency decree following an anti-government rally the previous day. AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) –  Thousands of Thai protesters gathered Thursday in defiance of a sweeping crackdown after authorities moved to crush months of pro-democracy demonstrations by imposing emergency powers and rounding up leading activists.

Protesters chanted “Prayut get out!” and “Free our friends!” as they confronted police at Ratchaprasong, a busy junction in central Bangkok, despite a new decree that bans gatherings of more than four people – aimed at quelling student-led demonstrations.

The government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a former army chief who initially took power in a 2014 coup, has been the target of the protesters, but they have also taken aim at Thailand’s unassailable monarchy.

After the emergency measures were announced early Thursday, riot police dispersed hundreds of protesters who camped overnight outside the prime minister’s office.

Later, student leaders took to social media to urge supporters to take to the streets.

“Come out in force – only giving moral support from home is not enough,” said the Free Youth Movement, which had organised massive demonstrations in recent months.

That call was answered by thousands, including high school students, who covered the ID tags on their uniforms with duct tape.

“I want democracy for my country,” said Katherine, a 13-year-old who gave only her first name.

“I want to be a part of big change,” she added.

Three top activists were among nearly two dozen arrested earlier Thursday, including Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, according to Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul – another prominent figure, whose own detention was live-streamed on Facebook

Anon Numpa, another leading activist, said he was forcibly taken by helicopter to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand “without my lawyer”.

“This is a violation of my rights and is extremely dangerous to me,” he wrote on Facebook.

It was not immediately clear how those arrested were accessing their social media accounts.

On Wednesday, there were unprecedented scenes as protesters crowded around the royal motorcade carrying Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn, raising the three-fingered gesture of defiance adopted from “The Hunger Games” books and films.

 

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