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Thailand: Protesters take to Bangkok streets despite warning

Protesters fill the road at the Ratchaprasong intersection where they converged in defiance of the state of emergency put into effect early yesterday. They address the crowd for the first time after protest leaders were arrested by police. Pho

Tens of thousands of people on Saturday took to the streets for the third consecutive day in a wave of protests across Bangkok and other Thai cities in defiance of a government crackdown following three months of demonstrations aimed at the prime minister and monarchy.

Pro democracy demonstrators face water canons as police try to disperse them from their protest venue in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has yet to lift the state of severe emergency declared on Thursday that bans gatherings of five or more people in Bangkok.

He was referring to an incident on 14 October that showed some members of a small crowd heckling a motorcade carrying queen Suthida and prince Dipangkorn as it slowly passed. Two protesters on the scene have been charged with endangering the Queen, an offence which carries a potential life sentence.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri told Reuters news agency that "there is no win or loss for any side, it's all [causing] damage to the country".

Friday night's violent dispersal led the People's Party, the protesters' umbrella organization, to declare in a statement that "the government and military have established themselves as the enemy of the people". "It did not harm the rights and freedoms of any group of people".

In an attempt to stay ahead of authorities, protest organizers advised followers to gather at stations outside the city center, where access was easier.

Police said that their response to Friday's protest had been proportionate and in line with global norms. She was among thousands who occupied the busy Lat Phrao intersection for some four hours on Saturday. We need to stand right now; if not now, then we don't know when. "We can not abandon our friends".

The underground metro system in the Thai capital of Bangkok has been completely shut down amid ongoing protests and the related state of emergency, operating firm MRT said on Saturday.

Conservative royalist Thais accuse the protest movement of seeking to end the monarchy, an allegation its leaders deny.

But unlike the previous day, police did not intervene and the protestors dispersed by 8:00pm as instructed by organisers, who vowed to "reunite again" Sunday.

They have also arrested dozens of activists including human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, student activist Parit Chiwarak - widely known by his nickname "Penguin" - and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul.

The king and queen spend most of their time in Europe and are on their longest visit to Thailand this year. Their fiery speeches have opened the lid on public discussion about the role of Thailand's monarchy.

Since ascending the throne in 2016, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has taken personal control of the palace's vast fortune - worth an estimated $60 billion - and moved two army units under his direct command. Some of the protesters have come out wearing hard hats.

The protesters charge that Prayuth, who as army commander led a 2014 coup that toppled an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year's general election because laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party.

The government insists the reforms to the royal family are off-limits, but this position was becoming untenable, said International Crisis Group analyst Matthew Wheeler.