BANGKOK, Oct 21 — Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha backed down today over emergency measures he imposed last week to stop three months of protests, but demonstrators said it was not enough and demanded he resign within three days.
Tens of thousands of people marched to his offices at Government House. The protesters have been demonstrating for months against Prayuth and to demand curbs to King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s powers.
In a televised address, Prayuth said he was ready to lift measures banning political gatherings of five or more people and publication of information deemed to threaten security.
“I will make the first move to de-escalate this situation. I am currently preparing to lift the state of severe emergency in Bangkok and will do so promptly if there are no violent incidents,” Prayuth said.
“We must now step back from the edge of the slippery slope that can easily slide to chaos,” he added, saying talks should go to parliament - where his supporters have a majority.
At his office, demonstrators handed over a mock resignation letter. They claimed success after an official took it inside.
“But our fight isn’t over as long as he doesn’t resign. If within three days he doesn’t resign, he will face the people again,” protest leader Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon told the crowd.
The protests have become the biggest challenge to Thailand’s establishment in years and have drawn the most open opposition to the monarchy in decades despite lese majeste laws setting jail terms of up to 15 years for insulting royalty.
Most demonstrations have been peaceful so far, but police used water cannon against protesters last Friday, further fuelling the anger of government critics.
In his speech, Prayuth said “terrible crimes had been committed against the police using metal rods and huge cutting implements” on that day, although witnesses reported no such thing the time. But he also said Thailand would not “get to a better society through the use of water cannon”.
Riot police only briefly held up today’s march at one point before letting the crowds through.
Protesters say Prayuth rigged an election last year to keep hold of power he seized in a 2014 coup. He says the election was fair. Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling years of military domination.
The palace has a policy of making no comment to media.
Prayuth said protesters should wait for next week’s emergency session of parliament, whose entire upper house was appointed by his former junta.
“The protesters have made their voices and views heard,” Prayuth said. “It is now time for them to let their views be reconciled with the views of other segments of Thai society.”
Scores of Thai royalists and anti-government protesters earlier confronted each other at Ramkhamhaeng University.
The yellow-shirted royalists advanced on student protesters and the two sides shouted abuse at each other. Some threw water bottles and other objects before the students pulled back and police stepped in to separate the sides.
“I beg you, do what you will, but do not touch the monarchy,” one of the royalists, Sirimongkol Ruampan, 24, told Reuters. “I don’t believe in violence. I beg again, don’t bring the monarchy into politics.” — Reuters