BANGKOK (AP) — Anti-government protesters tussled with police in the Thai capital on Friday as 15 leaders of their movement turned themselves in at a police station to answer a summons linked to a demonstration last month.
About 130 supporters joined the 15 activists as they made their way to the station, 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, amendment of the constitution and an end to intimidation of government critics.
The almost daily protests are building into the most serious threat yet to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. He took power in a coup in 2014 and 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 have grown louder against the enduring military influence and Prayuth’s performance.
The economy has struggled to compete with its neighbors even before the damage inflicted by measures to counter the coronavirus pandemic, which include shutting down Thailand to foreign tourists.
The government has also been dogged with 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” movie series.
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.
“Just a regular interrogation I guess,” said one leader, Sirin Mungchareon, as she waited to go in. “Our lawyers have prepared us for this so I think everything’s going to be OK.”
A number of other leading protesters have already reported themselves in the past few weeks and gained release on bail.
One of those ordered to report Friday, prominent activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa — also known as “Pai Dao Din” — said the protesters plan to step up their actions.
“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 called for reform of the monarchy, a move that has significantly raised the political temperature.
The monarchy has traditionally been seen as revered and untouchable. It is protected by harsh anti-defamation laws. Such an open and uncompromising challenge to its position is unprecedented in modern Thailand.
This story corrects the reference to the movie “The Hunger Games.”