BANGKOK: More than 30 civilians and police were injured in anti-government protests in Thailand, an emergency medical centre said on Sunday after police used water cannon, teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the rally the night before.
Video circulated on social media showed police hitting and stomping on people with others fleeing from police in riot gear and some abandoning their motorcycles. Another video showed people taking refuge from teargas in a McDonald’s restaurant.
Thirteen police officers and 20 others were injured, the Erawan Medical Centre said.
Police said on Sunday their actions were in accordance with international standards and that 20 protesters were arrested for breaking public gathering laws and insulting the monarchy.
“Violence originated from the protesters’ side and police have to defend the law and protect national treasures,” the deputy head of the Bangkok police, Piya Tavichai, told reporters. Protesters disagreed.
“Violence came from the police first, using tear gas and water cannons before protesters did anything,” said activist Rukchanok Srinork, 27, who was at the rally.
“They have helmets, shields, crowd control training, if there is a stone, raise your shields.” Portraits of the king were defaced at Saturday night’s protests, which drew well over 1,000 people.
An anti-government protest this month saw over 20 protesters injured.
Thailand’s youth protest movement emerged last year and has posed the biggest challenge for the government of Prime Minster Prayuth Chan-ocha, a retired army general who seized power in 2014 from an elected government.
Protesters say he engineered a process that preserved the military-monarchy establishment and kept him in power after a 2019 election. Prayuth and his supporters reject that assertion.During the skirmishes, protesters tossed smoke bombs and giant firecrackers at police, and also splashed a royal portrait with paint, but failed in an attempt to set it on fire, though they did burn tires and trash at several locations.
Police Deputy Spokesman Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen said police had warned in advance that the rally was illegal. He said in addition to throwing various objects, protesters used slingshots to fire nuts and bolts at police and hit them with metal rods. He said police had used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets according to proper procedures.
The rally was called by REDEM, a faction of a broader protest movement last year that started with three core demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government, for the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the monarchy to be reformed to make it more accountable.
REDEM, which stands for Restart Democracy, claims to have no leaders and holds online voting to decide on rally dates and activities.
The movement sharpened its campaign to focus on the monarchy, and Thailand’s lese majeste law, which makes criticising, insulting or defaming the king and some other senior royals punishable by up to 15 years in prison.