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Thai protests: Large gatherings banned under emergency decree

Socialapps.Tech 97 October 14, 2020
image captionSecurity forces were deployed to disperse protesters early on Thursday

The Thai government has announced an emergency decree to combat protests in Bangkok, which includes banning large gatherings.

A televised announcement read out by police said "many groups of people have invited, incited and carried out unlawful public gatherings in Bangkok".

It said urgent measures were needed to "maintain peace and order".

Protesters have called for curbs on the king's powers and for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

media captionThe BBC's Jonathan Head says the Thai government has its back against the wall

The announcement on state television said protesters had "instigated chaos and public unrest".

It cited protesters confronting a royal motorcade on Wednesday as a reason for the decree. The protesters, who were pushed back by ranks of police, raised the three-finger salute that has become a symbol of the protest movement as the queen was driven through Bangkok.

The emergency measures came into effect at 04:00 local time on Thursday (21:00 GMT on Wednesday).

In addition to limiting gatherings to four people, the decree puts restrictions on the media, prohibiting 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".

It also allows authorities to stop people from entering "any area they designate", Reuters news agency reports.

The growing student-led protest movement, which began in July, has become the greatest challenge in years to Thailand's ruling establishment. Protests over the weekend in the capital were some of the largest in years, with thousands defying authorities to gather and demand change.

Authorities say 18,000 people joined Saturday's demonstration, although others gave higher figures. Many stayed to continue the protest into Sunday before dispersing.

The protesters' calls for royal reform are particularly sensitive in Thailand, where criticism of the monarchy is punishable by long prison sentences.

Thai riot police cleared protesters from outside the prime minister's office shortly after the emergency decree took effect on Thursday morning.

Some protesters tried to resist, using makeshift barricades, but they were pushed back, Reuters news agency reports.

Hundreds of police were seen on the streets after protesters were dispersed.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said three protest leaders had been arrested. Police have not yet commented on this.

Thailand has a long history of political unrest and protest, but a new wave began in February after a court ordered a fledgling pro-democracy opposition party to dissolve.

The Future Forward Party (FFP) had proved particularly popular with young, first-time voters and garnered the third-largest share of parliamentary seats in the March 2019 election, which was won by the incumbent military leadership.

image captionBangkok has seen some of its biggest protests in years

Protests were re-energised in June when prominent pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit went missing in Cambodia, where he had been in exile since the 2014 military coup.

His whereabouts remain unknown and protesters accuse the Thai state of orchestrating his kidnapping - something the police and government have denied. Since July there have been regular student-led street protests.

Demonstrators have demanded that the government headed by Prime Minister Prayuth, a former army chief who seized power in the coup, be dissolved; that the constitution be rewritten; that the authorities stop harassing critics.