Police have used water cannon and tear gas to disperse demonstrators who gathered in the Thai capital, Bangkok, to demand reform of the monarchy and the release of pro-democracy activist leaders.
Security forces in riot gear pushed back about 1,500 protesters who had pulled down part of a barricade of shipping containers outside the Grand Palace. In some places, police faced off with protesters who threw firecrackers.
“We’re demanding real democracy and not a government that says it is elected but comes from the army,” a 60-year-old man who gave his name only as Kung, told the Reuters news agency. “The world has changed and we want the same kind of monarchy as in Western countries,” he added.
Police used shields, batons, rubber bullets and tear gas and arrested five protesters, police deputy spokesman Kissana Pattanacharoen told reporters.
“We repeatedly issued warnings before escalating our response,” he said, adding that protesters used metal bars and threw stones and marbles.
A youth-led protest movement sprang up last year calling for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s resignation and a reform of the powerful monarchy.Demonstrators also say he engineered a process that would preserve the political status quo and keep him in power after a 2019 election. Prayuth, who previously led the military government, has rejected the claims.
Since the movement erupted, more than 60 people have been charged under Thailand’s draconian royal defamation laws, and a handful of the most prominent leaders have been arrested.
Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from the Thai capital, said that although the number of people taking to the streets on Saturday was smaller than during protests last year, protesters remained dissatisfied.
“The government has made no substantial effort to reforming the constitution and the administration they [the protesters] were so unhappy about is still very much in place,” said Cheng.