Thailand protests prompt 'serious emergency' decree banning crowds
BANGKOK -- Thai authorities declared a "serious emergency situation" in Bangkok early on Thursday and cleared thousands of demonstrators who had surrounded the seat of the government, in a dramatic shift in approach after months of youth-led protests.
The emergency decree, which bans gatherings of more than four people, took effect at 4 a.m.
"It is very important to have urgent measures to fix this and halt this conduct effectively so the law is respected and the public is in order," said the announcement. The message was published under the name of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Key protest leaders, including human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and student activist Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak, were arrested at around 4:30 a.m. on allegations of sedition. After the arrests, some of the protesters who had gathered around Government House began to disperse on their own.
The protest movement has three main demands: the resignation of Prayuth and his cabinet, constitutional changes drafted by representatives of the people, and reform of the monarchy led by King Maha Vajiralongkorn under the constitution -- but not its abolition
The protesters had originally gathered on Wednesday at Democracy Monument, near the administrative heart of Bangkok. The crowd then started marching toward Government House, reaching it in the early evening.
A royal motorcade carrying Queen Suthida at one point encountered marching demonstrators, who flashed three-finger salutes -- a symbol of the movement drawn from "The Hunger Games" franchise of books and films. She smiled and waved back.
The king's motorcade passed without incident, but the authorities took the interruption as a serious offense, prompting the clampdown. "There was conduct that affected the royal motorcade, and there was reason to believe there was violent conduct that affected state security, safety in life or assets of the people and state," a preliminary translation of the government's statement read.
Before his arrest, Arnon called for the crowd to move the rally to Ratchaprasong intersection, which is the commercial heart of Bangkok, by 4 p.m. on Thursday. Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, another protest leader who has also been arrested, posted a video clip before being taken into custody, encouraging people to continue with the demonstration as planned.
This new rally, if it occurs, would be likely to draw pushback from law enforcement..