Tens of thousands of people took to streets across Thailand’s capital Bangkok and other cities across the country on Saturday in defiance of a crackdown on three months of demonstrations aimed at the government and the powerful monarchy.
Many protesters said they had been stirred into action by the police’s use of water cannon on Friday to disperse thousands of youth-led protesters who included many children.
“It was way over the line. We want to show them our power and that we can’t accept this,” said Tang, a 27-year-old office worker among thousands of people who gathered at the Lat Phrao station in the capital Bangkok.
Police attempts to thwart protesters by shutting down Bangkok’s public transport network backfired when it led to localised protests across the city involving three main centres and several other smaller demonstrations. There were demonstrations in at least six cities outside Bangkok too.
“Prayuth, get out,” the protesters chanted, in reference to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former military ruler they accuse of engineering an election last year to prolong the hold of the army.
Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from Bangkok, said organisers called on protesters to gather at three different locations in the city.
“Protesters appear to have out-foxed the police who have effectively shut down Bangkok. Some of the protesters have come out wearing hard hats, expecting a heavy-handed response from the police,” Cheng said.
Police did not intervene, and the protests dispersed after several hours.
“We will primarily negotiate,” police spokesman Yingyos Thepjamnong told a news conference. “Enforcing the law will be step by step, using methods that follow international standards.”
In the past week, police have arrested more than 50 people, including several protest leaders.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri told Reuters news agency that “there is no win or loss for any side, it’s all [causing] damage to the country. The government would like to ask protesters to not gather and remain peaceful”.
On Thursday, Thailand ordered a ban on protests which have become the biggest challenge in years to the government and have brought unprecedented criticism of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Immediately after the ban, tens of thousands of people protested in Bangkok in defiance.
Thousands more rallied on Friday, pushing back against riot police who responded by firing chemically-laced water that was dyed blue.
“I condemn those who cracked down on the protesters and those who ordered it. You all have blood on your hands,” protest leader Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, said after being freed on bail following his arrest on Friday.
Protesters demand the removal of Prayuth, who first took power in a 2014 coup. He rejects protesters’ accusations that he engineered last year’s election to keep power. Breaking a long-standing taboo, protesters have also called for curbs on the power of the monarchy.