Protest leaders declared an end to a third successive night of anti-government demonstrations on Friday after police used water cannon against a large crowd at the Pathumwan intersection in central Bangkok.
As police regained full control of the intersection around 8.30pm, organisers vowed to stage another rally on Saturday to press for the ouster of the Prayut Chan-o-cha government, but they are keeping the location a secret.
Jets of water, some of it dyed blue, were sprayed from trucks parked behind hundreds of riot police advancing toward a crowd estimated at 2,000 at around 6.30pm.
Some protesters said the water contained a chemical that made their eyes sting but its exact composition could not be confirmed.
The demonstrators tried to push back. Many held locked umbrellas in front of them, a protective tactic learned from their counterparts in Hong Kong. Others threw water bottles at the officers. Some spectators on the skywalk dropped their umbrellas to the protesters so that they could protect themselves.
Police ordered the crowd to disperse immediately. Media members were reportedly told not to live-stream images of the police action.
Some protesters began building barriers at the intersection to prevent officers from moving in. Others chased away police officers and chanted “get out … stop harassing people”.
The police said that four riot-control officers and 11 protesters were injured in the confrontations.
By 7.30, most of the crowd had begun to leave Pathumwan, after protest leaders told them to go home and prepare for the next event.
The protesters began walking south on Phaya Thai Road in the rain, passing Chulalongkorn University to the Sam Yan intersection and Silom Road on their way home.
The leaders said Chulalongkorn University’s main entrance would be open for anyone seeking to take shelter in case of emergency. Some participants were seen lingering on the campus and others moved on to linger around Sam Yan.
A smaller group of activists remained outside Siam Center but they were chased away by riot police brandishing batons and shields. An unknown number of stragglers were arrested.
The Pathumwan District Court, meanwhile, issued arrest warrants for 12 leading protesters, including Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, for violating the new emergency decree that the cabinet formally approved earlier in the day. Gen Prayut said he would not rule out a curfew in the capital if the situation remained unsettled.
If arrested, authorities said, demonstrators will be sent to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 office in Pathum Thani province, where some other high-profile figures in the movement are reportedly detained.
As many as 51 people, well-known protest leaders as well as participants, have been arrested over the past four days, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Some of the key figures in the movement are being held without bail.
Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, one of the most outspoken of the leaders, is being held without bail in Chiang Mai.
Friday’s confrontation came just two hours after the crowd began forming at Pathumwan. The venue was a last-minute change after authorities completely sealed off the Ratchaprasong intersection, the scene of a rally that police estimate drew 13,500 people on Thursday night. That crowd dispersed peacefully around 10pm.
As images of police spooling razor wire across the road began to circulate on social media on Friday afternoon, protest leader Panupong posted a Facebook message inviting supporters to gather a few hundred metres away.
The demonstration started at 5pm. Protesters in the streets at the intersection called out to people above on the skywalk to join them on the ground.
“Come down. Come down,” they urged.
The protesters shrugged off the state of emergency as they shouted out their demands for Gen Prayut to step down and for authorities to release detained activists.
Police earlier in the day warned that demonstrators would be arrested as the emergency decree bans gatherings of five people or more.
The nearby Siam Paragon, Siam Center and Siam Discovery shopping complexes closed early because of the rally. The event also caused the operators of the BTS and MRT to curtail some services and close some stations including National Stadium BTS.