BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai protesters on Wednesday gave Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha a three day deadline to step down or face more demonstrations, but the leader who made the announcement was arrested within two hours.
Prayuth had earlier said he was ready to lift emergency measures he imposed last week to stop the protests as a move to “de-escalate” the situation.
Tens of thousands of people marched to his offices at Government House. The protesters have been demonstrating for months against Prayuth and to demand curbs to King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s powers.
They claimed success after handing a mock resignation letter for Prayuth to an official outside.
“Our fight isn’t over as long as he doesn’t resign. If within three days he doesn’t resign, he will face the people again,” protest leader Patsaravalee ‘Mind’ Tanakitvibulpon, 25, told the crowd.
She was subsequently arrested on charges police said were related to a protest on Oct. 15, joining a list of dozens of activists picked up in the past two weeks. Her lawyer said she was charged for breaching the emergency measures.
As Patsaravalee was led away she said: “I’m not worried. This is the government’s game.”
In a televised address, Prayuth had said he was ready to lift measures banning political gatherings of five or more people and publication of information deemed to threaten security.
“I will make the first move to de-escalate this situation,” Prayuth said.
“We must now step back from the edge of the slippery slope that can easily slide to chaos,” he added, saying talks should go to parliament, where his supporters have a majority.
The protests have become the biggest challenge to Thailand’s establishment in years and have drawn the most open opposition to the monarchy in decades despite lese majeste laws setting jail terms of up to 15 years for insulting royalty.
Most demonstrations have been peaceful so far, but police used water cannon against protesters last Friday, further fuelling the anger of government critics.
Riot police briefly held up Wednesday’s march at one point before letting the crowds through.
Protesters say Prayuth rigged an election last year to keep hold of power he seized in a 2014 coup. He says the election was fair. Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling years of military domination.
The palace has a policy of making no comment to media.
Prayuth said protesters should wait for next week’s emergency session of parliament, whose entire upper house was appointed by his former junta.
“The protesters have made their voices and views heard,” Prayuth said. “It is now time for them to let their views be reconciled with the views of other segments of Thai society.”
Scores of Thai royalists and anti-government protesters earlier confronted each other at Ramkhamhaeng University.
The yellow-shirted royalists advanced on student protesters and the two sides shouted abuse at each other. Some threw water bottles and other objects before the students pulled back and police stepped in to separate the sides.
“I beg you, do what you will, but do not touch the monarchy,” one of the royalists, Sirimongkol Ruampan, 24, told Reuters. “I don’t believe in violence. I beg again, don’t bring the monarchy into politics.”
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Peter Graff and Rosalba O’Brien)