Thailand Arrests Democratic Protest Leaders
In another stage of the crackdown on the democratic movement in Thailand, the police arrested on Thursday twenty protesters, including the leaders.
Thailand's government declared a strict new state of emergency for the capital on Thursday, a day after a student-led protest against the country’s traditional establishment saw an extraordinary moment in which demonstrators heckled a royal motorcade.
Defying the emergency decree, thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered to occupy the major Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok on Thursday afternoon.
"Slaves to dictators!" the protesters chanted, directing their anger at the scores of security officers deployed to the area.
"Free our friends!" the protesters also chanted.
Around 15,000 officers were deployed in the city for the demonstrations, police said.
Activist leader Mr. Anon Nampa charged that in the morning the police had led the royal motorcade into the demonstration to create a scene.
"Police led the royal motorcade into the middle of the demonstration when there was no schedule or notice beforehand,” Anon said. “It’s a strategy by the state to try to portray the protesters as violent and destructive.”
Police said they had arrested over 20 activists, including several protest leaders such as Mr. Anon, following the emergency declaration which came into effect on Thursday morning.
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Anon said in a Facebook post that he had been forced aboard a helicopter by police special forces without a lawyer present. He was facing sedition charges in the northern province of Chiangmai for a speech he delivered during a protest in August, he said.
"This is a violation of my rights and is extremely dangerous for me," Mr. Anon, who is also a human rights lawyer, said in the posting.
Mr. Anon's Facebook page appeared to have been deactivated later Thursday soon after he posted that he had arrived at a military base in Chiangmai.
Anon told reporters before his arrest that there were several groups of people who were ready to lead the anti-government movement should he and other leaders be arrested.
One of the few protest leaders who has not yet been arrested, Mr. Panupong Jadnok, took up the mantle to lead Thursday's rally at Ratachaprasong.
Mr. Panupong kicked off the rally by telling fellow protesters gathered at Ratchaprasong to sit down and remain seated should security forces move in to forcibly break up the protest.
"Let's see what they'll do to us if we just remain seated," Mr. Panupong said. "If they harm us, the world will see who the tyrants are."
Hundreds expressed support marked with the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag, a light-hearted name representing a shared passion for sweet tea drinks in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan, that now is a symbol of the aspiration for freedom and democracy as well as the resistance against the Chinese Communist Party.
Among those who tweeted support for Thai protestors was a co-leader pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong Mr. Joshua Wong, and Singaporean pro-freedom blogger and activist Roy Ngerng.