Palace march turns ugly

Palace march turns ugly

Water cannon used again as tension rises

Police use a water cannon on protesters who were trying to break through a police cordon near the Grand Palace. Officers were trying to enforce the law that forbids protesters going within 150 metres of the royal premises. (Photos by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Police use a water cannon on protesters who were trying to break through a police cordon near the Grand Palace. Officers were trying to enforce the law that forbids protesters going within 150 metres of the royal premises. (Photos by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Authorities on Sunday escalated tensions by using water cannon against the protesters who planned to march to the royal palace to submit a petition to His Majesty the King.

Meanwhile, a network of royalist groups said they intended to submit letters to the prime minister and army chief to call for a power seizure.

The anti-government protesters under the banner of "the People" gathered on Sunday afternoon at Democracy Monument to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a rewritten constitution and reform of the royal institution.

Their leaders did not say where they were heading, although the Free Youth group and affiliates announced that they were going to the Grand Palace near Sanam Luang.

The protesters broke through a police cordon in front of Rattanakosin Hotel before stopping in front of the Supreme Court where three public buses and barbed wire fencing had been deployed to block the roads. A water cannon truck was positioned behind.

Previously the police had issued a warning that the protest group must not enter within a 150-metre radius of the palace and instead send their representatives to talk. Volunteer marshalls tried to keep the protesters about 500 metres away from a police cordon.

However, at 6.20pm the protesters tried to push aside the buses that were impeding their progress to the palace.

After collectively moving one bus aside, they found themselves faced with barbed wire and police vans.

After 10 minutes of escalating tension, the police deployed the water cannon for a minute or two after the rallygoers ignored warnings to halt their march towards the royal residence.

This time the water sprayed from the cannon was not laced with any chemicals, as had been the case during an Oct 16 event, according to members of the protest group that the Bangkok Post spoke with.

Officers then apologised for the use of the water cannon but warned the protesters to keep at least 10 metres away from their cordon.

However, this admission only served to further rile the crowd, who yelled taunts and obscenities as security forces struggled to keep the situation under control.

Many demonstrators then moved to the open space at Sanam Luang while their leaders negotiated with a police team led by Pol Lt Gen Phukphong Phongpetra to end the stalemate.

In a bid to defuse the situation, four replica red postboxes were later moved to near the City Pillar Shrine, about 100 metres away from the Grand Palace for the protesters to drop off their letters, which the People's Movement leaders said contained messages to HM the King.

At almost 9pm, the protest leaders read out a collectively agreed message, undersigned by the "People", calling for reform of the monarchy before the crowd dispersed and the rally ended.

The Erawan Emergency Medical Centre of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration on Sunday reported five people, including one officer, were sent to hospital. Among them, four were injured and one suffered a fever.

All were later discharged.

Also on Sunday, a network of royalist groups said they would gather in front of the Government House and the army headquarters today to submit letters to the PM and the army chief calling for a coup d'état.

The network's secretary-general Krit Yiammethakorn said they would issue a statement proposing solutions to the country's conflicts.

The network wanted to be an institution with sustainability to help the nation and the government by correcting the Thai history with a focus on the King's philosophy, he said.

Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai said before the demonstration took place that around 8,850 police would be deployed in three key locations.

These included an area from Democracy Monument to Phan Fa Bridge, Sanam Luang and adjacent areas and an area from Phan Fa Bridge to Government House.

The deputy city police commissioner had called on protesters to stay at least 150 metres away from the palace under the Public Assembly Act.

Any messages deemed libellous or threatening towards the monarchy would also result in prosecution, he said.

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