A violent brawl erupted on Saturday outside a Bangkok shopping mall after royalists confronted activists attempting to conduct a poll about royal motorcades.
The incident began shortly after the Thalu Wang group and activist Tantawan Tuatulanon gathered on the skywalk at the Siam BTS station in front of Siam Paragon.
The gathering followed an incident in which Ms Tantawan and a colleague honked their car horn at a royal motorcade on the evening of Feb 4. They also attempted to overtake a police vehicle, which drew criticism from authorities and a police complaint for causing a public disturbance.
Saturday’s event had been publicised in advance on social media, and a group calling itself Thai People Protecting the Monarchy also arrived at the scene.
As Ms Tantawan was explaining the details of her activity — and also apologising for her driving in the earlier incident — the pro-palace group started shouting at her and some pushing and shoving occurred between supporters of both sides.
Pathumwan police and plainclothes officers who had been deployed to maintain peace and order immediately intervened, but not successfully.
An officer started to lead Ms Tantawan away from her critics and she did not resist. Others followed and continued to shout at her and take video with their phones. “Rebels out!” some shouted, as more pushing and shoving ensued, and punches were thrown by both sides.
At one point, a man later identified as Arnon Klinkaew, chairman of the pro-monarchy group, was seen leaping over a turnstile, chasing down another man and putting him in a headlock. Mr Arnon has filed a number of lese-majeste complaints against activists under Section 112 of the Criminal Code.
Another video taken at the scene shows a man punching another man in the face three times.
The clash lasted about 20 minutes. It prompted BTS staff to close Gate 4 to the BTS station and Gate 3 that links to the shopping mall.
After the chaos, Ms Tantawan led her group to file a complaint with Pathumwan police against the pro-royalist group. The latter also filed a complaint against the Thalu Wang group at the same station.
Police had to separate the two groups, keeping the Thalu Wang side inside and the others in front of the station, where barriers had been erected.
There were reports that some members of the two groups sustained minor injuries in the clash.
Ms Tantawan is already facing a charge under Section 112 for a poll she conducted in 2022. Last year she and Orawan Phupong staged a hunger strike for 52 days to press their case for the release of people detained on political charges.
MFP calls for cooler heads
In a related development, the Move Forward Party, viewed by opponents as overly sympathetic to the protest movement, has called for cooler heads on both sides.
Deputy spokesman Karunphol Tiansuwan said the party disagreed with the act of honking at a royal motorcade. He said the traffic-control measures taken by authorities were consistent with international practice when it comes to VIP motorcades, and the inconvenience to motorists was minimal.
The party also clarified that its chief adviser and former leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, was not a bail guarantor for Ms Tantawan, as some critics had claimed in arguments to support an ethics investigation.
In a statement on its X account, the party said it understood that Ms Tantawan's expression “may cause discomfort to many citizens [and] has also generated debate about the limits of expression”.
But it said political conflict was an “uncomfortable reality” in Thai society. It called for “creating space for all parties to find mature solutions and resolve current conflicts, which is necessary to develop Thailand to keep up with the world”.
The party also said that Ms Tantawan had initially requested bail during her hunger strike last year. She later withdrew that request, for which Mr Pita had acted as the guarantor. However, the court subsequently granted her bail on health grounds.
Activist Tantawan Tuatulanon holds a placard on which she asks the public whether they agree royal motorcades cause trouble, at the Siam BTS station on Saturday. Respondents were asked to place dots under “trouble” (left) or “no trouble” (right). (Photo: Khai Maew Cheese Facebook)