BANGKOK -- Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha rescinded at noon Thursday a week-old state of emergency that allowed the use of water cannons, tear gas and skin irritants against peaceful demonstrators last Friday night.
The action by riot police was widely condemned domestically and overseas. The authorities have also used the decree banning gatherings of more than four people to interrupt mass transit systems transporting thousands of protesters in the capital, and to try and restrict unfavorable live media coverage of large youth-led demonstrations over the past week.
The decree's reduction was posted on Thursday in the Thai government's public journal, the Royal Gazette, after thousands of protesters reached Government House on Wednesday night and demanded the resignation of Prayuth within three days.
After eight consecutive nights of demonstrations in Bangkok and many other parts of the country, pro-democracy protesters may be taking a break ahead of the weekend when the ultimatum to Prayuth comes due. Protesters have not explicitly ruled out demonstrations during this period, however.
Friday is a scheduled public holiday commemorating King Chulalongkorn, the fifth king in the reigning Chakri dynasty, and will see royalists gather around an equestrian statue at Royal Plaza.
Hundreds of yellow shirted protesters led by Dr. Rienthong Nanna, director of Mongkutattana General Hospital and head of the Rubbish Collection Organization, a royalist vigilante group, gathered in northwestern Bangkok at Changwattana Road in Nonthaburi province at 5 p.m. on Thursday to express loyalty to the monarchy. Similar gatherings are expected in the coming days.
There have been royalist gatherings of up to 500 people in recent days, including in Narathiwat in the deep south, Lampang in the north, and Chonburi east of Bangkok.
Social media have carried images of military trucks arriving in Bangkok transporting men with cropped hair in yellow shirts who are believed to be security personnel.
In a televised speech on Wednesday evening, Prayuth came some way toward meeting protester demands by offering to reduce the state of emergency. "I will make the first move to de-escalate this situation," he said. "I am currently preparing to lift the state of severe emergency in Bangkok and will do so promptly if there are no violent incidents."
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam warned that the decree can be reissued. "If there were to be any incident, it can be declared again," he said.
The entire country has been under a milder emergency decree since March to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has been extended on a monthly basis. The cabinet is due to meet next week for the November extension. Wissanu said the administration might consider adding a clause banning demonstrations to existing edicts.
Reducing the emergency decree is but one of the demands protesters have made. Others include the resignation of Prayuth and his cabinet; constitutional changes drafted by representatives of the people; reform of the monarchy -- but not its abolition; and release of protest leaders.
One leader, Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon, was released on Thursday, but others remain in police custody.