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Turbulent Thailand

Thailand protesters vow to continue with daily rallies

Leaders adopt cat and mouse tactics around Bangkok

 Pro-democracy protesters shine their mobile phone lights during an anti-government protest, in Bangkok, Thailand October 17, 2020.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- On a wet but unusually cool Saturday afternoon, Thailand's peaceful young protesters ran circles around authorities attempting to enforce a ban on public assemblies of more than five people.

A supplemental emergency decree on Thursday morning led to the deployment of riot police, water cannons and tear gas on Friday night against an estimated 4,000 protesters. Arrest warrants were also issued for 12 student leaders who were still at large.

Tensions have risen after the Friday crackdown, fueling further unrest with the protesters vowing to stage daily protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his cabinet, constitutional changes drafted by representatives of the people, and reform of the monarchy under the constitution.

"After the crackdown on Oct. 16, we learned that the government and military are enemies of the people," the People's Party 2020, a united front of different protest groups, said in a statement this morning.

Asked by reporters on Friday whether he would yield to protest demands and resign, Prayuth said, "No, I won't ...What wrong did I do?" The prime minister said all measures to curb the protests would respect international norms regarding civil disorder.

Pro-democracy protesters show the three-finger salute during an anti-government protest in Bangkok on October 17.   © Reuters

An attempt to thwart the protester's mobility today by suspending the entire BTS SkyTrain mass transit system from 3 p.m. to midnight failed as the youngsters took to motorcycle taxis and other means of transport -- or simply walked -- to get around the city.

The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration had earlier asked protesters to gather along the BTS system: "All stations have become assembly points for demonstrations," it announced.

Roads in the financial, business and retail districts were blocked early in the afternoon by police, who evidently presumed the protesters would be converging in one place again for a main rally.

The fourth day in a row of protests in the capital had been planned for 4 p.m. Organizers announced just 15 minutes ahead of time that these would occur in outlying parts of the city: the major Lat Phrao intersection to the north; Udom Suk, another key intersection on the southeast edge of the capital; and Wong Wien Yai, a large roundabout in Thonburi west across the Chao Phraya river.

Groups also popped up in other places, including at the major Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection in the heart of the city, Sam Yan near Chinatown, and Ramkhamhaeng in the northeast part of the city, which has a university and large student presence.

Protests have also been reported in at least 30 places outside the capital.

Bangkok protesters got by without public address systems -- some even using traffic cones as loud hailers -- and announced they would be going home at 8 p.m.

The strategy of early protest shutdowns is likely to undermine the usefulness of a threatened curfew -- one of the unused weapons in the arsenal of the beleaguered government of Prayuth.

Although no serious injuries were reported on Friday night, the Thai authorities have been heavily criticized by lawyer groups, the parliamentary opposition and international human rights groups for their heavy handed response to the orderly and peaceful protest.

Opposition parties issued a joint statement in the morning condemning the excessive use of force in dispersing protesters at the Patumwan intersection on Friday. "These are our children, our future generation, who have come to express their opinions with the aim of seeing our country move forward in the right direction," they said. "And it is a right stipulated by the constitution."

Joining this clamor for the resignation of Prayuth and his government today was Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister whose caretaker government he toppled as army chief in a coup in 2014.

Yingluck reminded Prayuth that she had called an election when confronted by serious street protests after he had asked her if she could continue her administration.

"I hope you can recall what you asked me, and I hope you will choose immediately the path to bring the country back to peace and prosperity," Yingluck tweeted.

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