Thai PM rejects calls to quit as protests escalate

Two Thai protesters could face life imprisonment for violence against the Queen

The cabinet on Friday formally approved the state of emergency in Bangkok at an urgent meeting called by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Yesterday's rally was broken up by a large contingent of riot police backed by water cannon after at least 1,000 people had gathered.

A protest sign read "Release our friends" - a reference to the arrest of more than 40 protesters, including several of their leaders, as a government crackdown has intensified this week. He rejects protesters' accusations that he engineered last year's election to keep power.

"Get out, get out", the protesters chanted as police used the heaviest force yet to stop three months of protests that have challenged King Maha Vajiralongkorn's monarchy as well as demanded the removal of Mr Prayut, a former military ruler.

Thai pro-democracy protesters said Saturday they would defy an emergency decree banning gatherings for a third consecutive day after confrontations the previous night saw riot police use water cannons against the mainly young activists.

On Thursday, Mr Prayut imposed an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people, but about 10,000 ignored the measure, demonstrating late into the night.

"I'm not afraid. Emergency or not, I have no freedom", said 26-year-old illustrator Thanatpohn Dejkunchorn, who left work early to attend the protest with friends.

"We've issued warnings against illegal acts", said police spokesman Yingyot Thepchamnong. We have to proceed because the situation became violent ...

Asked by reporters on Friday whether he would succumb to the protesters' request and resign, Prime Minister Prayuth replied "No, I won't.What wrong did I do?" Protesters also want a new Constitution to replace one drafted under military rule.

The ban on gatherings of more than five people was imposed early on Thursday after almost three months of protests that have called for a reduction in the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn's monarchy as well as the removal of Prayuth.

He warned people not to violate the emergency measures, saying: "Just wait and see".

Opposition party Pheu Thai has called on the government to lift emergency measures and free those detained.

The prime minister is a former military ruler, whom critics accuse of interfering with a general election previous year to maintain power as a civilian.

The kingdom's political elite has been jolted by the youth-led movement that is demanding the government's resignation and issuing a once-taboo call for reforms to Thailand's powerful monarchy.

The Metropolitan Rapid Transit announced the suspension of service from 12.30 am on Saturday, while police have ordered the closure of 14 major train stations that are close to possible protest venues in central of Bangkok. Protests have been largely peaceful.

Meanwhile, two men have been charged with attempted violence against Queen Suthida, whose motorcade was surrounded by protesters.

Poonsuk Poonsulcharoen, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, said the pair are believed to be facing charges that carry a maximum life sentence.

"People should not be afraid of their governments", he said.



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