The Thai government on Thursday lifted a state of emergency for Bangkok more than three weeks ahead of schedule, saying “violence” had ended, but pro-democracy protesters said they would take to the streets again if the prime minister did not resign by Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, a key student leader who was arrested last week, urged the demonstrators to come out in even larger numbers and not bow to “feudalists,” according to the activist’s lawyer who visited her in prison.
“Currently, the severe situation which resulted in the emergency decree has subsided, and violence has ended, therefore government officials and state agencies can enforce regular laws,” Thursday’s announcement in the Royal Gazette said about the emergency decree that was imposed in the Thai capital on Oct. 15.
There were no fresh protests in the streets of Bangkok on Thursday, but for seven straight days since the government of Prayuth Chan-o-cha declared a state of emergency there, thousands upon thousands of young Thais and students defied the measure as well as a renewed ban on public political gatherings of more than four people.
Late on Wednesday, thousands of activists, who called themselves the People’s Party, marched to Prayuth’s office to present him their resignation ultimatum, ahead of a pause in demonstrations on Thursday. Activists said they would resume their protests on Friday, which is also when royalists will pay homage to the late King Chulalongkorn on the 110th anniversary of his death.
In a Wednesday night address to the nation, Prayuth had announced his willingness to lift the state of emergency if violence associated with the rallies ended.
He pointed to incidents on Oct. 16, alleging that “terrible crimes” were committed against police by a small group of violent people using “metal rods and huge cutting implements.” That night, riot police turned water cannons mixed with a chemical dye that can irritate skin at demonstrators.
The pro-democracy demonstrators have been holding rallies since July 18, calling for Prayuth to resign, for the constitution to be rewritten and for the monarchy to be reformed.
Since Oct. 13, as many as 90 demonstrators have been arrested and charged, some for sedition, among other alleged violations, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a local NGO. A person convicted of sedition faces a maximum jail term of seven years.
Nine of those arrested, including key leaders such as Anon Numpa, Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattankul, remain in custody.
“Though [I’m] in jail, my heart is there with you. …Please come out more to show that people won’t submit to the feudalists,” Panusaya, who was charged with the grave offense of sedition, said through her lawyer who visited her at the Central Women Correctional Institute in Bangkok on Thursday.
‘Too late now’
The lifting of the emergency in Bangkok won’t appease the anti-government agitators, who remain adamant that Prayuth must resign, a protest leader indicated.
“He’s still seeking to stay in power while ignoring all the people’s demands. The emergency decree shouldn’t have been issued in the first place,” Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat, one of the protest leaders, told Reuters news agency.
Prayuth, as army chief in 2014, led a military coup that toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Protesters say he rigged the general election last year, an accusation that Prayuth has denied. Activists say he should resign along with the rest of his government that is filled with key figures from the 2014 coup.
Anusorn Unno, an academic at Thammasat University, said he believed that Prayuth has no choice but to resign.
“The government and senators earlier refused to accept constitutional amendment motions but chose to buy time,’’ Anusorn told BenarNews.
He was referring to the government’s decision in late September to cancel voting on six proposed amendments to the country’s military-backed constitution. Instead, the government set up a committee to consider the amendments.
Protesters say the constitution was tailored to enable Prayuth to retain power, and therefore it needs to be amended. They also want a changed charter to limit the powers of unelected senators and to reform the monarchy.
“The government asked all to take one step back, but it seems it’s too late now, the protesters maintain that he quit. His move [to lift the emergency] does not meet the demands of the protesters,” Anusorn said.
Meanwhile, as of Thursday, plans for a special parliament session on Oct. 26 and 27 were still in place.
In his address Wednesday, Prayuth reiterated that he was in favor of lawmakers meeting to discuss efforts to reconcile the protesters’ concerns with those of other members of society.
“I ask the protesters to reciprocate with sincerity, to turn down the volume on hateful and divisive talk, and to let us, together, disperse this terrible dark cloud before it moves over our country,” Prayuth said.