Prayuth Chan-Ocha. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ NURPHOTO/ ANUSAK LAOWILAS
Prayuth Chan-Ocha. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ NURPHOTO/ ANUSAK LAOWILAS

Bangkok — Thousands of antigovernment protesters gathered in the Thai capital for a third straight day after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha rejected calls to quit, escalating a three-month-old movement demanding greater democracy and less power for the monarchy.

Riot police used water cannons to try to disperse demonstrators, who defied emergency rules and a ban on large gatherings with a last-minute change in the protest venue to hold a rally at the main intersection near the MBK Centre shopping mall in central Bangkok. A flash mob also staged a rally in Chiang Rai province in Northern Thailand as protest leaders called for demonstrations across the nation.

Protesters are calling for monarchy reform as well as a rewriting of the constitution, which was drafted by a military-appointed panel after Prayuth, a former army chief, took power in a 2014 coup. The charter was instrumental in helping Prayuth retain power after 2019 elections.

Prayuth said on Friday that he would not resign, and the emergency rules that he declared on Thursday will be in place for 30 days, or less if the situation improves. The state of emergency for Bangkok was announced after tens of thousands of protesters broke through police lines and surrounded Prayuth’s office on Wednesday night.

The protesters’ use of social media to plan their gatherings and open defiance of police point to the resolve of the movement’s leaders to keep up the pressure until their demands are met. The movement, led at first mostly by students, has broken taboos about publicly criticising the royal family, which sits at the apex of power in Thailand.

More than 50 protesters were arrested this week, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Police have said legal action will be taken against those who violated the ban on gatherings of five or more people. On Friday, the protesters called for the release of arrested activists and urged people to join the rally to strengthen the movement.

The mounting demonstrations have weighed on the nation’s currency and stocks, with foreign investors turning net sellers of $10.6bn of equities and bonds so far this year. The baht capped its first weekly loss in three, while the benchmark SET Index of stocks slid 2.6% this week.

Bloomberg

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