Pro­test­ers gather de­spite state ef­forts to quell move­ment

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Jerry Harmer Jerry Harmer is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

BANGKOK — Prodemoc­racy ac­tivists in Thai­land staged a fourth straight day of high­pro­file protests in the cap­i­tal on Satur­day, thwart­ing ef­forts by the au­thor­i­ties to stop them, in­clud­ing a shut­down of the city’s mass tran­sit sys­tems.

Un­like protests a day ear­lier, which saw po­lice us­ing a wa­ter can­non to keep the pro­test­ers at bay, Satur­day’s demon­stra­tions were peace­ful, with no re­ports of any clashes by the time par­tic­i­pants started head­ing home in the evening.

The pro­test­ers are call­ing for Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chanocha to leave of­fice, the con­sti­tu­tion to be amended to make it more demo­cratic and the na­tion’s monar­chy to un­dergo re­form.

All sta­tions of Bangkok’s el­e­vated Sky­train tran­sit sys­tem were closed Satur­day af­ter­noon

to try to keep pro­test­ers from gath­er­ing. The un­der­ground MRT sys­tem was also shut, and po­lice blocked off sev­eral roads.

Pro­test­ers met any­way as planned at the Sky­train sta­tions, where they held small im­promptu ral­lies.

The or­ga­niz­ers then is­sued a fresh ad­vi­sory for fol­low­ers to gather at three sta­tions out­side the city’s cen­tral area, where ac­cess was eas­ier.

“Right now we can do noth­ing much,” said a 26yearold ho­tel worker who asked to be called only Veron­ica. “What we can do right now is only show our power to let the out­side see.“

Sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple gath­ered in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions, with some tak­ing turns air­ing their views over a mega­phone. By the evening, po­lice had not

dis­turbed them, even when some groups took to march­ing in the street. Pro­test­ers be­gan dis­pers­ing at 8 p.m., the time or­ga­niz­ers had said the protests would end.

The pro­test­ers acted de­spite a state of emer­gency im­posed by Prayuth on Thurs­day that makes them all sub­ject to ar­rest.

They also ap­peared not to be cowed by a crack­down on their rally in cen­tral Bangkok on Fri­day night, in which riot po­lice backed up by wa­ter can­nons cleared the streets in about an hour.

No ma­jor in­juries were re­ported from that con­fronta­tion. It was the first time in three months of spo­radic protests that the au­thor­i­ties have em­ployed such force­ful tac­tics against the stu­den­tled move­ment.

A 20yearold stu­dent who used the name Ryo said Fri­day night’s events had hard­ened his re­sis­tance.

“I re­spect peo­ple’s po­lit­i­cal opin­ions, but af­ter yes­ter­day’s in­ci­dent, I feel it was so harsh, per­pe­trat­ing vi­o­lence against un­armed peo­ple who had no weapons to fight back,” he said.

The pro­test­ers charge that Prayuth, who as army com­man­der led a 2014 coup that top­pled an elected gov­ern­ment, was re­turned to power un­fairly in last year’s gen­eral elec­tion be­cause laws had been changed to fa­vor a promil­i­tary party. The pro­test­ers say a con­sti­tu­tion pro­mul­gated un­der mil­i­tary rule and passed in a ref­er­en­dum in which cam­paign­ing against it was il­le­gal is un­demo­cratic.

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