Claiming to be fighting for the monarchy, leaders of the Pitak Siam group twice told protesters to confront a police cordon and to try to break through it yesterday – the second time just before 2pm at the Misakawan Intersection near Government House.
“We’re doing this for our King, are we not?” asked a female protest leader through a loudspeaker on top of a truck just a stone’s throw from the Misakawan Intersection, where rows of police were standing. Many officers in the front row were wearing gas masks while holding transparent fibreglass anti-riot shields. “What about the police? They work for bad politicians!” the female leader said.
She then announced that 132 protesters had been arrested earlier in the morning as a result of the first clash at the nearby Makhawan Intersection, and that a few had been hospitalised. The air was tense, and when protesters began soaking their towels with water, it appeared that a second clash was imminent.
Soon the voice of another leader, this time a man, on the back of the same truck was heard saying: “Only listen to voices [from the truck],” he told hundreds of protesters on that side of the protest site, which held part of the estimated 30,000-strong crowd.
The leader then addressed police officers on the other side of the divide: “You are unjustly enforcing the law,” he said, in reference to the imposition of the Internal Security Act (ISA).
A senior police officer answered through a megaphone. The officer asked protesters to move back and not confront officers, adding that they were just doing their duties.
But his plea fell on deaf ears; the same protest leader retorted that protesters were carrying out their duty as well, and ordered his men to march forward.
Protesters then initiated the clash, many pushing and kicking the police shields, with some throwing fist-sized rocks and others hurling home-made fireworks. One protester pepper-sprayed a police officer in the front row. Hell broke loose as police hit back with batons and about half a dozen tear gas canisters were fired, sending everyone without gas masks, myself included, running away from the suffocating and acidic bite of the gas, which engulfed the intersection within seconds.
I ran westward, toward Wang Daeng Intersection, along with many police , who had no gas masks, trying to wash their faces with bottled water.
Nine hundred police officers were guarding Wang Daeng Intersection, preventing any protesters from entering. One of the commanders, Pol Colonel Prasert Siriphanpiwat, wasn’t in a good mood as he told The Nation that officers were merely trying to maintain law and order under the ISA.
“Look and judge it for yourself,” he said, traces of tear gas still in the air and on our faces, some 100 metres from the clash site. “Is this the democratic way? Is it right? Clearly they are thugs.”
As he spoke, reinforcements of anti-riot police marched passed us towards the intersection, the air still somewhat filled with traces of tear gas. A police loudspeaker tried to boost their morale by playing police songs and told its officers that they would show protesters what they are capable of.
Prasert said that under the Internal Security Act, the entrances and exits to the protest site were restricted and police would defend their line to protect Government House, with force if necessary.
At dusk, Pitak Siam, which at its inception called for a military coup, abruptly called off the rally, which partly turned violent. I sensed that this would be just the beginning of an attempt to remove the Yingluck Shinawatra government through a coup, or through whatever means and at whatever cost to Thailand.