Thai police shot rubber bullets and used water cannons and tear gas against pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok on February 28 at a rally outside a military barracks housing the prime minister’s residence.
A youth-led protest movement calling for the resignation of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government had lost steam in recent months following a second wave of coronavirus infections in Thailand.
But the recent detention of four prominent protest leaders on royal defamation charges has given it a shot in the arm.
The four are among 58 protesters facing lese majeste charges and the prospect of up to 15 years in jail per charge if convicted of insulting the monarchy.
An estimated 2,000 demonstrators marched from the major Bangkok intersection Victory Monument on February 28 to a nearby military barracks where Prayut lives.
Among the protesters were scores of migrant workers from neighbouring Myanmar rallying against the coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1.
Some Thai protesters marched wearing hard hats and carried red flags.
Hundreds later pushed through shipping containers and barbed-wire barricades, leading to a confrontation with riot police guarding the entrance of the barracks.
Scuffles broke out between riot squad officers and protesters, while some demonstrators were seen pushing a police truck.
One protester at the front line told Thai media: “They are preparing everything, shields, baton, water with some chemical and rubber bullets.”
Amid the tense stand-off, officers used water-cannon trucks and let off tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd – the first use of force, albeit non-lethal, at a Bangkok rally for several months.
Protesters shouted for water and saline as they were sprayed. Some wore raincoats while others held their bare hands in the air or raised three figures – a symbol of resistance.
Officers later shot rubber bullets, according to an AFP journalist on the ground.
“It doesn’t hurt too much,” a protester told Thai media, showing a red mark on his arm.
Some protesters threw glass bottles, rocks and bricks at officers while others took refuge inside a nearby Shell petrol station, which later closed early.
Despite protest organisers sending a social media message at around 8:30pm local time (1330 GMT) urging demonstrators to go home, scores stuck around, many on motorbikes playing a cat and mouse game with advancing police.
A doctor from the Erawan Emergency Medical Centre said 16 protesters were injured.
At least two protesters were arrested, according to a live Facebook feed, however police have not confirmed the total number.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said 19 were arrested including a 16-year-old.
Thailand’s pro-democracy movement kicked off last July and at its peak attracted tens of thousands of mostly young people.
Among the movement’s demands are a rewrite of the army-drafted constitution and reforms to the monarchy – a taboo-smashing demand in a country where the ultra-wealthy royal family has long been untouchable.