*

upload_article_image

Thai police use water cannons on pro-democracy protesters

Thai pro-democracy protesters were confronted by riot police and sprayed by water cannons Sunday as they tried to approach Bangkok's Grand Palace to deliver letters about their political grievances addressed to the country's king.

The protesters had pushed aside a bus that was serving as a barrier to try to approach the palace, which houses the royal offices. The protesters had met earlier at Bangkok's Democracy Monument and marched as darkness fell, pushing past an initial thin line of police.

The water cannons were employed by the police for just a short time, and it was not clear if anyone was hurt in the chaos.

Pro-democracy protesters march in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. The protesters continue to gather Sunday, led by their three main demands of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's resignation, changes to a constitution that was drafted under military rule and reforms to the constitutional monarchy. (AP PhotoSakchai Lalit)

Thailand’s pro-democracy movement has been pushing a bold challenge to reform the monarchy with almost daily demonstrations. Sunday marked the second time water cannons had been used against them during several months of demonstrations.

The student-led movement, which over several months has seized the political initiative, has put enough pressure on the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to call for Parliament to deal with at least some of their demands.

They are seeking Prayuth’s resignation, changes to the constitution to make it more democratic and reforms to the monarchy to make it more accountable.

Front line pro-democracy protesters lead a march with linked-arms at Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. The protesters continue to gather Sunday, led by their three main demands of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's resignation, changes to a constitution that was drafted under military rule and reforms to the constitutional monarchy. (AP PhotoSakchai Lalit)

The protesters believe Prayuth lacks legitimacy because he came to power after an election last year whose rules were set up under military rule. Prayuth as army chief in 2014 led a coup ousting an elected government and then headed the junta that ran the country until last year’s polls.

A new constitution was put into effect by the junta that the protesters also consider illegitimate and anti-democratic.

The third demand, calling for reform of the monarchy, is the most controversial. The monarchy has traditionally been an untouchable institution, regarded by most Thais as the heart and soul of the nation. A lese majeste law mandates a prison term of up to 15 years for anyone who defames the king or his close family.

Pro-democracy protesters flash three-finger salutes as they gather for a street march and a rally at Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. The protesters continue to gather Sunday, led by their three main demands of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's resignation, changes to a constitution that was drafted under military rule and reforms to the constitutional monarchy. (AP PhotoSakchai Lalit)

Until the protesters raised the issue, public criticism of the royal institution was virtually unknown.

While the protesters have increasingly put the monarchy issue front and center, they have received serious pushback. Even the main opposition party, otherwise sympathetic to their other points, has said it does not want to amend laws covering the monarchy, and royalists have started holding counter-demonstrations.

Parliament has agreed to debate amending the constitution and political leaders are discussing setting up a reconciliation committee, an effort that so far has been rejected by the protesters.

Pro-democracy protesters display placards and flash three-finger salutes as they gather for a street march and a rally at Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. The protesters continue to gather Sunday, led by their three main demands of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's resignation, changes to a constitution that was drafted under military rule and reforms to the constitutional monarchy. (AP PhotoSakchai Lalit)

But Prayuth has insisted he won’t step down, and any effort to reform the monarchy seems to be a dead end, leaving the situation deadlocked.

Men make barricades with buses, concreate blocks and barbed wires blocking a road heading to the Government House, office of the prime minister, ahead of a pro-democracy street march and a rally in Bangkok, Thailand Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. (AP PhotoRapeephat Sitichailapa)

Men make barricades with buses, concreate blocks and barbed wires blocking a road heading to the Government House, office of the prime minister, ahead of a pro-democracy street march and a rally in Bangkok, Thailand Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. (AP PhotoRapeephat Sitichailapa)

A supporter of the monarchy displays an image of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida as they gather at Democracy Monument ahead of a pro-democracy demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Thai royalists have recently been holding counterdemonstrations, but so far, they have lacked the numbers and enthusiasm of the pro-democracy activists. (AP PhotoSakchai Lalit)

Supporters of the monarchy wave Thai national flags and display images of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida and late King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they gather at Democracy Monument ahead of a pro-democracy demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Thai royalists have recently been holding counter-demonstrations, but so far, they have lacked the numbers and enthusiasm of the pro-democracy activists. (AP PhotoSakchai Lalit)

Supporters of the monarchy display images of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida and late King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they gather at Democracy Monument ahead of a pro-democracy demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Thai royalists have recently been holding counter-demonstrations, but so far, they have lacked the numbers and enthusiasm of the pro-democracy activists. (AP PhotoSakchai Lalit)