Thai Riot Police Use Water Cannons on Protesters Near Palace

Date: 2020-11-08 16:43:43

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Thai riot police used water cannons to disperse anti-government demonstrators as they tried to approach the royal palace in Bangkok to submit petitions to King Maha Vajiralongkorn calling for changes to the monarchy.

Three people were injured, according to Bangkok’s emergency medical services, including two protesters and one police officer. The police used water cannons as tens of thousands protesters got within a 150-meter radius of the Grand Palace. Demonstrators halted their march after the water cannons were deployed, footage showed.

It was the first time protesters had planned to directly communicate with the king by writing to him. The letters were put inside containers designed to look like Thai postboxes, which were wheeled alongside demonstrators as they marched toward the palace. Demonstrators have been rallying for almost four months, with key demands including more accountability and transparency from the monarchy.

High-pressured water cannons were previously used last month on demonstrators, when they defied state of emergency rules and a ban on large gatherings to hold a rally in central Bangkok.

The protesters are breaking deeply entrenched taboos in Thailand, where insulting or criticizing top royals can lead to long jail sentences. Last month, they submitted a letter to the German embassy in Bangkok asking the government in Berlin to investigate the king, who spends much of his time in the European country, over tax and visa violations there.

“Sunday’s protest is another key moment in which the protesters are changing the relationship between the people and the king,” said Tyrell Haberkorn, professor of Southeast Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “With each protest, and each new action, the people are asserting themselves as equal members of the polity.”

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The king said recently that Thailand is a “land of compromise.” Royal supporters also gathered in Bangkok on Sunday to show their backing.

Demands for monarchy reform include that the king no longer endorse coups and getting rid of laws that stifle discussion of the royal family.

“It will be a milestone in our history that we send our requests directly to our king to bring the monarchy back under the constitution, not away from democracy,” protest organizers said in a statement ahead of the Sunday rally. “This is not a subversion, rather this will dignify the monarchy.”

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha has urged protesters to trust the parliamentary process to address their grievances. Activists also want a rewriting of the constitution, which was drafted after Prayuth took power in a 2014 coup, and was instrumental in helping the establishment retain power after elections last year.

The Thai parliament plans to set up a reconciliation committee to ease tensions, but protesters rejected the move and called for the immediate resignation of Prayuth, who has said he wouldn’t quit.

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