[Update-1] Protest leaders arrested and State of Emergency declared

State security officials have arrested several anti-government protest leaders early on Thursday after the government declared a State of Emergency following massive demonstrations the day prior.

Anti-government protests have taken place throughout the country for the past three months with student protesters calling for the removal of the Prayut Chan-ocha government and a rewriting of the military-drafted constitution.

A major rally took place on Wednesday with protesters calling into question Thailand’s royal institution. An incident occurred during the protest in Bangkok’s old town with unprecedented scenes that saw protesters demonstrating in front of a royal motorcade which included the King and the Queen.

Thailand’s monarchy has traditionally held a sacred place in Thai society and is protected by an archaic lese majeste law that can imprison anyone guilty of ‘insulting’ the monarchy by up to 15 years.

Since the student-protests started, however, rally-goers have called into question the role of the traditional institution and its alleged interference into politics and governance.

Several small skirmishes broke out between pro-democracy protesters and a royalist mob on Wednesday after the government bussed in hundreds of royalists to counter the protests.

Unacceptable scenes’

Prime Minister Prayut declared early Thursday morning that the confrontation between the royal motorcade and the protesters were unacceptable and said that decisive action would be taken against the protesters for bringing the monarchy into disrepute.

The government then declared a State of Emergency banning the gathering of people, censoring the press, and allowing the government to carry out arrests without warrants.

After the SOE was declared, the government moved into the protest area around the government house where demonstrators were camped out overnight.

Several prominent protest leaders were arrested and taken away by state security officials including prominent human rights lawyer Anon Numpha, Parit Chirawut and, Panupong Jadnok.

All have held speeches that touched upon the monarchy.

Protest leader Anon Numpha shortly before his arrest. He asked the world’s media to witness any attempt at a crackdown by the Thai state.

New protests called

Protests have been called by the remaining student-leaders to rally against the arbitrary arrests and the government.

They say that they will gather at 4 pm at Rajprasong intersection in downtown Bangkok. It is unclear whether authorities would allow the demonstrations to occur as it is in violation of the newly declared emergency act.

Police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen told reporters that the State of Emergency will allow the police to arrest and prosecute anyone calling for or going to the Rajprasong rally.

Krissana warned protesters that the police will not hesitate to arrest or detain those in violation of the SOE.

Protesters say government to blame

Protesters have taken to social media to voice displeasure at the government for carrying out the arrests. Many online commentators have blamed the government for the confrontation between the royal motorcade and the protesters on Wednesday afternoon.

Online social media users say that the government could have diverted the motorcade to a different route but instead chose to orchestrate the confrontation to find an excuse for a crackdown on protesters.

The government has been pressured to step down by the demonstrators for months and Wednesday’s incident provided a ready excuse for the Prayut administration to end the anti-government protests, the online internet users said.

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