Thai protesters tussle with police as movement leaders answer police summons

Thai protesters tussle with police as movement leaders answer police summons
Anti-government protesters push a metal barrier into inside of the Samranrat police station in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Aug, 28, 2020. The protesters tussled with police in the Thai capital on Friday as 15 of their movement leaders turned up at a police station to answer a summons linked to demonstrations denouncing the arrests. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Anti-government protesters have tussled with police in the Thai capital as 15 of their movement leaders arrived at a police station to answer a summons linked to demonstrations denouncing a crackdown.

About 130 supporters joined the 15 activists as they made their way to the station in Bangkok, carrying banners and chanting “Long live democracy” and “Down with dictatorship”.

One protester hurled blue paint as others surged through barriers set up by police to control movement in the compound. There was no serious violence or new arrests.

The protesters are part of a student-led pro-democracy movement demanding new elections, amending the constitution and ending the intimidation of government critics.

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

The almost daily protests are building into the most serious threat yet to prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. He first took power in a coup in 2014 then retained it in a 2019 election widely seen as rigged to all but guarantee his victory.

With key cabinet posts still in the hands of former generals, voices against the enduring military influence and Mr Prayuth’s performance have grown louder.

The economy struggled to compete with its neighbours even before the damage inflicted by measures to counter the coronavirus pandemic, which included shutting down Thailand to foreign tourists.

The government has also been dogged by corruption scandals.

When calm returned at the police station, the student leaders went in to report themselves, pausing to wave to supporters and flash three-fingered salutes, a sign of resistance borrowed from The Hunger Games.

They said they would acknowledge charges brought against them for an anti-government rally on July 18. Coming voluntarily in a group is a safety tactic to avoid the possibility of being arrested separately by force.

A number of other leading protesters have already reported themselves in the past few weeks, and been released on bail.

Jatupat Boonpattararaksa at Samranrat police station in Bangkok (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

One of those ordered to report on Friday, prominent activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa — also known as Pai Dao Din — said the protesters would step up their action.

“We are serious about our demands. We’ll do anything to achieve them,” he said.

“If we hold a rally for one night and we don’t get our demands, we’ll hold one for three nights. And if that doesn’t work we’ll hold one for seven nights. If our demands aren’t met, we’ll keep escalating.”

Some protesters have also publicly called for wholesale reform of the monarchy: a move that has significantly raised the political temperature.

The monarchy has traditionally been seen as revered and untouchable, and is protected by harsh defamation laws. Such an open and uncompromising challenge to its position is unprecedented in modern Thailand.

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