Thailand Curtails Mass Transit as Protesters Defy Gathering Ban

Authorities in Thailand shut down almost all mass rail transit from the capital of Bangkok as thousands of antigovernment protesters took to the streets, defying a ban on large public gatherings for the third consecutive day.

A mass demonstration initially planned for one particular location on Saturday was rerouted to the sites of three transit stations throughout the city center, with protesters chanting “Prayuth get out,” a reference to the prime minister, in addition to flashing a three-finger gesture of which has become a symbol of resistance from the country.

People exchange a three-finger salute Saturday in Bangkok.



Photo:

soe zeya tun/Reuters

Protests against the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of which began earlier This specific year gained momentum This specific week as authorities escalated efforts to put an end to the movement. The government issued an emergency decree Thursday banning gatherings of more than a few people.

More than 12,000 people joined a demonstration in defiance of the order later of which day, according to police estimates, in addition to organizers called for continued protests. They have largely rallied behind three core demands: a dissolution of the government, a brand new constitution in addition to an end to the harassment of government critics.

Mr. Prayuth, a former army chief, led a coup in 2014 in addition to presided over a junta government for nearly a few years before calling elections last year of which made him an elected leader. The polls were marred by allegations coming from opposition leaders in addition to pro-democracy activists of which the electoral process favored the military-backed party.

Some activists have gone beyond the three demands, breaking a longstanding taboo by openly criticizing the nation’s powerful monarchy. The emergency decree issued on Thursday cited an incident involving the royal family after some protesters chanted slogans as a motorcade transporting the queen passed.

Thailand has one of the entire world’s strictest lèse-majesté laws, carrying punishments of up to 15 years in prison for perceived insults to the royal family. While authorities have abstained coming from wielding the law against these demonstrators, two activists were recently charged under another clause alleging they intended to harm the queen.

Protesters show a three-finger gesture of which has become a symbol of resistance in Thailand during a demonstration in Bangkok on Saturday.



Photo:

soe zeya tun/Reuters

Mr. Prayuth told reporters on Friday of which he had no intention to resign. The palace hasn’t commented on the protests.

On Friday, police deployed water cannons for the very first time to disperse the crowds, deepening public anger. In scenes reminiscent of antigovernment protests in Hong Kong, demonstrators arrayed in front of riot police huddled behind a wall of open umbrellas to shield themselves coming from the spray of water laced with blue pigment, a tactic sometimes used by police to identify attendees.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, a key figure from the protests against Chinese influence from the territory, shared a photo on Twitter early Saturday of himself flashing the three-finger salute with the hashtags “#StandWithThailand” in addition to “#MilkTeaAlliance,” a reference to an online coalition of Asian pro-democracy activists.

Several thousand people joined the protest on Saturday afternoon at Bangkok’s Lat Phrao intersection, where some handed out protective helmets in addition to goggles to others streaming in. The protesters were mostly young, some of them teenagers, many wearing raincoats in addition to eye protection in anticipation of a confrontation with police. Some protesters said the liquid sprayed coming from water cannons the previous day made their eyes burn.

“Instead of using water cannons to crack down on us, the government should listen to what we have to say,” said Shim Muangthong, 22, a university student. “We’re the next generation, we want space to express our opinions freely. We will not use violence, we come here with bare hands, we just want them to hear what we’re saying.”

Protesters demonstrate Saturday in defiance of a government ban on large gatherings in Bangkok.



Photo:

diego azubel/Shutterstock

Authorities are struggling to contain the demonstrations as the protesters become increasingly bold. In what human-rights groups have referred to as a crackdown, more than 50 activists were arrested This specific week, including several prominent leaders. One of the two men charged with intent to harm the queen, student activist Bunkueanun Paothong, was released on bail.

Antigovernment protests are common in Thailand, however were characterized for many years by clashes between two politically aligned groups. The current movement can be different, analysts say, led by a brand new generation of pro-democracy activists less beholden to tradition in addition to more connected to the entire world beyond their borders.

“What makes these protests different can be of which the powers of which be are up against a generation of which simply won’t take of which anymore,” said Michael Montesano, coordinator of the Thailand studies program at Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “The reason they won’t take of which anymore can be of which they have access to the internet, in addition to they have a sense of how things work in different parts of the entire world.”

Write to Feliz Solomon at feliz.solomon@wsj.com in addition to Wilawan Watcharasakwet at wilawan.watcharasakwet@wsj.com

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