Thailand’s protests are set to continue on Saturday, with organizers calling for another rally at 4 p.m. local time. This follows a large demonstration in the heart of Bangkok on Friday night, which police broke up using water cannons, tear gas and waterborne irritants. Tensions are running higher as the youth-led movement appears to be entering a new phase.
For all our coverage, visit out Turbulent Thailand page. Here are the latest developments:
Saturday, Oct. 17 (Bangkok time)
3:03 p.m. Transportation around Bangkok is severely disrupted. The BTS SkyTrain service, a key part of the city’s transit network, has just tweeted that all its stations will be closed for the rest of today.
11:59 a.m. “Today, the rally will be held at 16:00, place not yet” set, the pro-democracy group People’s Party 2020 says in a statement.
“After the crackdown on 16 October, we learned that government and military are an enemy to people,” the statement reads. Urging protesters to return, the group says everyone is a leader and asks people “to prepare your body and mind to be ready for the rally today, and be ready to handle … the crackdown that may be done again.”
0:38 a.m. Joshua Wong, the Hong Kong activist, expresses solidarity with Thailand’s pro-democracy movement. “People should not be afraid of their governments,” he tweets. “Only governments should be afraid of their people.”
Friday, Oct. 16 (Bangkok time)
10:48 p.m. “I got caught and I’m going to the Police Station,” activist Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, also known as Ford, tweets.
9:40 p.m. State television broadcasts a rare video of King Maha Vajiralongkorn speaking directly to a group of local loyalists during an audience at Sakon Nakhon Rajabhat University in northeastern Thailand on Thursday. “I think now you understand that the nation needs people who love the nation and the institution” of the monarchy, the king tells them. “All the experiences you’ve had and all the work you’ve done can be beneficial. You can teach the new generation about the experiences you’ve had. It will be extremely useful.”
8:00 p.m. Some protesters remain at the Pathumwan intersection, but the demonstration leaders announce an end to tonight’s rally.
7:40 p.m. Some protesters have fled, while others are sticking around as police push them back. They’re moving toward Chulalongkorn University.
7:10 p.m. Police are using water cannons to try to break up the demonstration.
7:00 p.m. Riot police have been moving in on Pathumwan. The situation is tense.
6:00 p.m. The crowd at Pathumwan has swelled, regardless of the rain.
Like Ratchaprasong, the original protest destination, the Pathumwan area is home to large shopping centers. It is also close to the Sra Pathum Palace, the residence of Princess Sirindhorn, the king’s sister — though there is no indication that the protesters are targeting it.
5:10 p.m. The rally organizers are urging people to gather at a different location than originally planned. They have suggested converging on the Pathumwan intersection, about 1 km west of Ratchaprasong. Pathumwan is another big crossing in Bangkok’s commercial heart, but lies outside the area sealed by police.
4:05 p.m. Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain service posts on Facebook that trains will not be stopping at its Chit Lom and Ratchadamri stations, near the Ratchaprasong intersection where protesters are planning to converge again in less than an hour. Skipping the stations would conform to a police order to stop traffic through the area.
News reports suggest there is a heavy police presence in the area as rain continues to fall.
3:15 p.m. It’s a wet, dreary day in Bangkok. Rain started falling around 2 p.m. Showers tend to last an hour or two in this tropical country, but if the weather doesn’t clear up, it could discourage some of the more casual protesters from attending this evening’s rally.
2:30 p.m. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has told reporters he will not resign, rejecting one of the protesters’ demands. He defends the emergency declaration, which was officially approved during a special cabinet meeting in the morning — hours after demonstrators ignored it.
“It is a necessary procedure given the occurrence of unprecedented violent situations,” Prayuth says. The decree is to remain in effect for 30 days.
The prime minister also says a curfew is possible under the “serious emergency” situation. When asked if he would consider introducing martial law, he says it is a possibility if things get really out of hand, but stresses: “We have not reached that point. There is no need for that right now.”
12:20 p.m. Six opposition parties, led by the Pheu Thai Party, have issued a joint statement against the government’s response to the protests. They say there was “no legitimate reason” to issue the emergency decree banning large gatherings. The law, they argue, is being used “as a political tool in limiting the expression of political opinions.”
The statement lists several demands for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and government officials. It calls on them to lift the emergency, guarantee free expression, avoid using the military and refrain from using force. It also urges demonstrators not to resort to violence, and requests a special session of parliament to address “various problems and issues.”
8:15 a.m. After a dramatic night that saw thousands stream into central Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong intersection, protest organizers are calling for another rally starting at 5 p.m. today. Like yesterday’s demonstration, this would defy an emergency ban on gatherings of five or more people.
While we wait to see how today unfolds, here are some scenes from last night.
A man speaks to the growing crowd of protesters at Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong intersection, known for its glitzy shopping malls. (Reuters)
Police officers gather to respond to the protest, where demonstrators demanded that the government resign and release the movement’s detained leaders. (Reuters)
Thousands of demonstrators make the three-finger gesture that has become a trademark of the protests. (Getty Images)
A monk receives an offering from a protester on the street. (Getty Images)
A man shows the three-finger salute, borrowed from “The Hunger Games” franchise of books and films. (Reuters)
4:30 a.m. Human Rights Watch says in a statement that the Thai government’s declaration of a state of emergency in Bangkok is “a pretext for a crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.”
Noting that the police have arrested at least 22 activists in front of Bangkok’s Government House, Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, wrote: “The Emergency Decree provides the Thai government with unchecked powers to suppress fundamental freedoms and ensures zero accountability for officials. Thai authorities should not repress peaceful protests with draconian laws that violate freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”
“The Thai government has created its own human rights crisis,” Adams wrote. “Criminalizing peaceful protests and calls for political reform is a hallmark of authoritarian rule.”
Thursday, Oct. 15
11:00 p.m. The Bangkok Post reports that Thai courts have approved arrest warrants for two activists believed to have been among the protesters when the royal motorcade carrying Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti passed on Phitsanulok Road on Wednesday afternoon. The warrants are for serious charges under Section 110 of the criminal code, but what the activists had allegedly done was not revealed.
Under Section 110, whoever commits an act of violence against the liberty of the queen shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or of 16 to 20 years.
10:00 p.m. Organizers decide to call it a day while public transportation is still running to take protesters home. Whether fired-up demonstrators will simply leave remains uncertain.
8:30 p.m. The demonstrators have broken into a skywalk that had been sealed off by the police before the rally. They forced their way in around 7 p.m., tearing down a metal lattice in the process. The skywalk, which connects Siam and Chidlom stations on Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain line, is now occupied by hundreds of people.
7:00 p.m. The CentralWorld mall, despite an earlier statement that it would stay open until 10 p.m. as usual, opted to close an hour ago, citing congestion relief. Big C Supercenter, a supermarket in the area, was closed before 6 p.m.
6:30 p.m. A couple of protesters among the thousands share their thoughts.
“We have been suppressed for long. We want an equal society,” says a 26-year-old woman. “Success may not come today. But it is another starting point. We will grow continuously from here.”
Another young woman, aged 17, says she feels politics is a “matter for everyone.”
“Thai democracy right now is not the real one.”
6:00 p.m. Panupong Jadnok, a 24-year-old social activist and one of the key protest leaders who is still free, vows that people will stay through the night, even as police monitor the crowd closely.
“We have occupied this Ratchaprasong area,” he says. “I ask all of you who are still fighting for democracy to come and join us tonight.”
“Free our friends,” protesters shout in unison, demanding police release those who were arrested this morning near Government House.
5:45 p.m. The protest is blocking all traffic through Ratchaprasong intersection. The BTS Sky Train — a key transport artery — is working but is reportedly bypassing some nearby stations.
Demonstrators have set up a mobile stage — basically a big truck with an amplifier — at the center of the intersection, surrounded by major shopping malls and the luxury Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel. For safety, stores and businesses in the area have allowed employees to go home earlier than expected.
5:25 p.m. The crowd converging on Ratchaprasong intersection has swelled to an estimated few thousand people, as of 5 p.m.
4:45 p.m. Local media reports say police have closed roads leading to Ratchaprasong. A Reuters report estimates the crowd at “hundreds” so far, with chants demanding the release of demonstrators and key movement leaders who were arrested earlier in the day. Reuters describes one protester tying a white bow on the wrist of a policemen, saying, “One day we will stand side by side when Thailand is better.”
4:00 p.m. At least some protesters turn up in defiance of the emergency degree as the clock strikes 4 p.m. — the planned start time for a demonstration in Bangkok’s commercial core. Images posted online show police clearing people out of a skywalk. Now a crowd is beginning to swell on the street near Ratchaprasong intersection. It remains difficult to say how much traction this will gain.
3:05 p.m. The outlook for this afternoon’s planned protest remains unclear. But a Thai professor tells Nikkei Asia that he does not expect the protesters will back down.
“They will try many methods to challenge the [emergency] declaration,” the professor says, “in order to show the international community that this government is not capable of governing the country anymore.”
2:25 p.m. Human rights group Amnesty International expresses concern.
“This vague, drastic order will lead to more people unfairly arrested, detained and prosecuted,” Ming Yu Hah, deputy regional director for campaigns, says of the emergency decree in a news release. “With further public assemblies expected to happen today, we urge the Thai authorities to engage in constructive dialogue with the protesters.”
Ming calls the reaction to the demonstrations “completely unjustified” since they were “overwhelmingly peaceful.”
2:00 p.m. “I know they are going to arrest me someday, but we are prepared for that moment,” student leader Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul told Nikkei Asia in an interview two months ago. The third-year undergraduate was one of the protest leaders detained earlier today.
1:35 p.m. The Philippine Embassy in Thailand warns Filipinos in the country to avoid crowded areas and follow authorities’ instructions, according to local media reports.
1:30 p.m. Reuters reports that the police and army intend to use checkpoints to stop protesters from gathering.
1:10 p.m. CentralWorld, one of the largest malls in Bangkok and situated on the northwest corner of the Ratchaprasong intersection, has installed fences around its periphery to deter protesters from entering. A mall representative tells Nikkei Asia that the plan is to stay open for the regular operating hours, until 10 p.m.
Gaysorn, another mall on the northeast corner, has also set up fencing. Students at a nearby school have been told to go home early to avoid a possible showdown.
12:05 p.m. So far, it appears to be business as usual in Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong area, picked as the gathering point for a possible rally this afternoon. There have been no announcements by major malls of plans to close early, as of noon. Still, the police request to avoid the area later today could affect the flow of shoppers.
12:00 p.m. For an in-depth look at what is motivating young Thais to take to the streets, read our Big Story from earlier this year. “After years of silence, the young generations have reached a threshold, a trigger point,” one expert told Nikkei Asia.
11:40 a.m. Meanwhile, diplomacy continues. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrives at the Government House in a black sedan for talks with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Reuters says they are expected to discuss cooperation on recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
11:10 a.m. Bangkok’s deputy police chief, Piya Tawichai, says about 2,000 officers will be dispatched from noon to the vicinity of Ratchaprasong intersection, in case demonstrators follow through on plans for another rally. The public is advised to avoid the area — the commercial heart of the city — from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Piya also confirms 20 demonstrators were arrested as of 7:30 a.m., including three key leaders. This does not include the arrest of Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, another movement leader, who was taken into custody later in the morning.
10:15 a.m. Thailand’s benchmark SET index falls as much as 1% in early trading, suggesting at least some investor unease over what the government is now calling the “serious emergency situation.”
9:40 a.m. A number of key protest leaders have been arrested, including one who posted a video clip encouraging people to continue with a protest in another part of Bangkok this afternoon.
In light of the emergency decree, police would likely turn out in force for this. Stay tuned.
6:47 a.m. Thai riot police clear thousands of protesters from outside the prime minister’s office, according to Reuters.
6:14 a.m. Here is a preliminary translation of the government’s announcement signed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha:
“Many people have instigated and mobilized illegal public gatherings in Bangkok with many ways and channels that caused chaos and disorder. There was conduct that affected the royal motorcade, and there was reason to believe there was violent conduct that affected state security, safety in life or assets of the people and state. This was not a peaceful gathering endorsed by the constitution. It also directly affects the control of COVID-19, which directly affects the vulnerable economy of the nation. It is very important to have urgent measures to fix this and halt this conduct effectively so the law is respected and the public is in order. Therefore, following Section 5 and Section 11 of the emergency decree, the prime minister has declared a state of severe emergency on Oct. 15 from 4 a.m. onward.”
6:08 a.m. The government orders a ban on gatherings of five or more people in Bangkok, according to an official document accompanying the emergency decree.
Under measures that took effect from 4 a.m. local time, authorities have the power to ban people from entering any area they designate.
It also bars the “publication of news, other media, and electronic information that contains messages that could create fear or intentionally distort information, creating misunderstanding that will affect national security or peace and order.”
5:30 a.m. Thai state television announces that the government has issued an emergency decree, citing a need to maintain peace and order.
Protesters have called for the ouster of junta leader-turned-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as well as a new constitution. They have also called for reforms to the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
A royal motorcade carrying Queen Suthida had earlier encountered demonstrators, who flashed three-finger salutes. She smiled and waved back. The king’s motorcade later passed along the road without incident on his way to a ceremony at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha near the Grand Palace.
State television said: “As it appears that many groups of people have invited and incited illegal public assemblies in Bangkok … acted to affect the royal motorcade and committed severe actions that affected national security … it is extremely necessary to introduce an urgent measure to end this situation effectively and promptly to maintain peace and order,” according to Reuters.