By Matthew Tostevin, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Chayut Setboonsarng and Panu Wongcha-um
BANGKOK (Reuters) – A defining second in Thailand’s rising protest motion began with the unannounced arrival of a champagne-coloured Rolls Royce stretch limousine on a Bangkok road.
When Queen Suthida’s motorcade slowed because it encountered a couple of dozen protesters jeering exterior Bangkok’s Authorities Home on Oct. 14, royalists denounced it as unforgivable harassment in a kingdom whose structure calls for reverence for the monarchy.
The federal government, led by a former military chief who was the preliminary goal of months of protests, responded swiftly.
It banned protests and made dozens of arrests. However that spurred extra demonstrations – and far better criticism of a monarchy that protesters say has helped to allow many years of navy domination.
At a time when King Maha Vajiralongkorn has confronted unprecedented scrutiny, many Thais have questioned why the queen was on that street at the moment, and have challenged the severity of the response – which additionally included three arrests on little-used expenses that would carry the demise penalty.
The opposition Transfer Ahead occasion stated on Thursday it deliberate a parliamentary movement “to check the errors remodeled the motorcade”, complaining this had led to extreme motion being taken, particularly citing the usage of Article 110 expenses of violence or tried violence in opposition to the queen.
“It reveals a failure within the setting of the royal motorcade route,” stated occasion spokesman Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn.
Different individuals famous the route was not the shortest between the Dusit Palace, the place the king and queen reside, and the temple the place Suthida was going.
Additionally they requested why the motorcade had moved so slowly, even at factors the place there was no evident obstruction. Royal automobiles normally transfer a lot quicker.
(GRAPHIC: Turning level in Thailand – https://graphics.reuters.com/THAILAND-PROTESTS/MOTORCADE/qzjvqaawqvx/Thailand-Motorcade.jpg)
Some Thais have raised questions whether or not the encounter was used to justify a crackdown. Reuters has no proof to substantiate this.
The Palace declined remark, because it has because the begin of three months of protests that at the beginning referred to as for the removing of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former military chief, however then broke a decades-old taboo by demanding royal reform.
Authorities spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri informed Reuters that securing royal motorcade routes was the police’s duty.
“The emergency declaration was essential to forestall different incidents and conflicts,” he stated, rejecting protesters’ accusations that it was a provocation to justify harsh measures.
Police didn’t reply to repeated Reuters requests for remark.
Reuters has reviewed 9 movies equipped by the individuals who shot them and brought from totally different angles along with different video on social media, nicely over 100 nonetheless footage with accompanying metadata and interviewed eight eyewitnesses to reconstruct how occasions unfolded.
There are gaps. Reuters was unable to determine the complete route of the motorcade earlier than and after the incident, why it was taken, why there had been no advance discover of the route or why the royal convoy travelled rather more slowly than typical.
The incident began when Queen Suthida reached the protesters at round 5:22 pm on Oct. 14.
Suthida was on a uncommon go to from Europe, the place she and the king had spent almost all the 12 months earlier than arriving in Bangkok on Oct. 10.
Wearing a light-weight blue silk costume with a gold sash, she was travelling on royal duties with the king’s 15-year-old son, and potential inheritor, Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, who wore his white costume uniform, replete with gold braid.
The protesters had been exterior Prayuth’s workplace at Authorities Home. Prayuth seized energy in a 2014 coup and protesters accuse him of engineering an election final 12 months to maintain his maintain – an accusation he denies.
Most of tens of 1000’s of protesters had been behind police blockades almost a kilometre away, however a couple of dozen had made it to the gates and had been milling round, outnumbered by police, who had been lined up 20 abreast on the street.
Often, police shut roads prematurely for royal motorcades, however this time it was solely the looks of the lead automotive and bike outriders that heralded what was coming – minutes earlier than it did.
“There was no announcement,” stated Pravit Rojanaphruk, a reporter from Khaosod English, who was interviewing protesters on the time. Video footage helps the assertion the standard warning was not given.
Protesters scrambled as bike outriders arrived. Recognising a royal automotive, arms shot as much as give the three-finger pro-democracy salute taken from “The Starvation Video games.” Others raised telephones to take footage.
A chant developed of “Our taxes,” a reference to accusations of royal profligacy. Some chanted “Nation, Faith, Folks” – adapting the standard pillars of Thai society: “Nation, Faith, Monarchy.”
The queen’s limousine slowed to a cease as police pushed again protesters at each side. It took almost a minute, as some had been dragged off. Footage present them clinging to the legs of law enforcement officials as they tumble down close to the Chamai Maru-chet bridge.
Protesters had been held behind a number of traces of police. At some factors, they appeared to get inside metres of the automotive, although all the time behind police and none gave the impression to be making an attempt to achieve it.
The queen, who holds the rank of basic and is a deputy commander of the Royal Safety Command, might be seen smiling and waving to individuals.
“Some footage made it seem like we harassed them, when it was them that drove proper into our gathering,” stated one protester who gave her title solely as Vitita.
A royalist group, the Heart for the Safety of the Monarchy, stated its members helped police preserve management.
“We risked 20 lives to forestall the mob that surrounded the royal motorcade with all our energy and shouted ‘Lengthy reside the King’ to muffle the mob,” the group stated in a press release.
Some yellow-shirted royalists might be seen with police within the video, however Reuters couldn’t verify the group’s claims.
About 280 metres on from the bridge, one other group of protesters stood behind police and royalists.
Video reveals somebody throwing what seems to be a bottle from deep within the crowd. It’s unclear if it hit the automotive as police jogged on both facet. Shifting at about 7 km (4 miles) an hour, the convoy handed the final protesters at round 5.27 p.m.
That night, the day by day royal information programme confirmed the queen arriving on the Wat Ratcha Orasaram Ratchaworawihan temple at 5.51 p.m. presenting saffron robes to monks. Later, she was proven handing out awards to kneeling topics.
However three sources, who didn’t need to be named due to the sensitivity, stated the Palace was angered by the fracas – that was one thing remarkable in many years.
Simply after 4 a.m. the following day, state tv introduced emergency measures citing unlawful public assemblies and stated individuals had “acted to have an effect on the royal motorcade and dedicated extreme actions that affected nationwide safety.”
All political conferences of 5 or extra individuals had been banned. So was information that would have an effect on nationwide safety.
Inside minutes of the announcement riot police rushed protesters exterior the prime minister’s workplace. A minimum of 20 individuals had been arrested – together with lawyer Arnon Nampa, the primary individual to have overtly referred to as for royal reform on Aug. 3. Arnon couldn’t be reached for remark as he remained in jail.
The response from protesters on social media was fast. The highest trending hashtag on Twitter in Thailand, used greater than 1.1 million occasions, interprets as #KingSlandersPeople – as individuals stated they thought the incident was getting used unfairly to justify harsh measures in opposition to protesters.
A minimum of 81 arrests have been made because the emergency decree, police stated. Protests occurred day by day, some drawing tens of 1000’s of individuals, earlier than emergency measures had been lifted on Oct. 22.
On Oct. 16, two activists had been arrested on expenses of violence in opposition to the queen, which may carry a demise sentence if the queen’s life is assumed to have been endangered.
Each Bunkueanun ‘Francis’ Paothong and Ekachai Hongkangwan might be seen in movies taken on the scene simply earlier than the queen’s automotive arrived and amongst protesters pushed again by police.
Now out on bail, Bunkueanun, 20, informed Reuters: “Every little thing went in a short time in a matter of minutes. Protesters began to push in to kind a wall. Then the police moved at us to clear the street.”
He stated when he realised a royal motorcade was coming, he used a small megaphone to inform individuals to face clear. He stated he flashed the salute, however then pulled again from the gang as he out of the blue felt unwell. “I couldn’t breathe correctly and I virtually fainted.”
In a video posted on Fb by Ekachai earlier than his arrest, he might be heard saying: “It is a royal motorcade. Present three fingers.” However the video didn’t present him try and get nearer to the automotive. Reuters was unable to achieve Ekachai or his legal professionals for remark.
Every denied the fees underneath Article 110, which outlaws violence or tried violence “in opposition to the queen or her liberty” and is even more durable than royal insult legal guidelines.
A 3rd activist, Suranat Paenprasert, was arrested on Oct. 21 on the identical expenses. He has thus far been denied bail. His lawyer, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, stated he was accused of persuading different protesters to dam the motorcade, however that none of them had realised what was occurring.
“Nobody knew that there was a royal motorcade coming,” she stated. “These blocking the street had been primarily the law enforcement officials.”
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Modifying by Simon Cameron-Moore)
Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.