Thai police disperse protesters outside PM's office

Pro-democracy protesters push Thai policemen with riot shields during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Thai police have dispersed a group of pro-democracy protesters who camped out overnight outside the office of the prime minister to demand his resignation, leading him to implement a “severe” state of emergency in the capital area

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai police early Thursday dispersed a group of pro-democracy protesters who camped out overnight outside the office of the prime minister to demand his resignation, leading him to implement a “severe” state of emergency in the capital area.

An Associated Press journalist saw riot police advance from multiple locations to force out a few hundred protesters who remained outside Government House, the seat of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Protesters were seen taken away into police trucks.

The police operation came after Prayuth declared a severe state of emergency in the Bangkok area to allow authorities to move against the protests. It bans unauthorized gatherings of more than five people.

Thailand is technically still under a state of emergency as part of coronavirus restrictions.

Before the police dispersal, a large number of protesters had already left the area after one of the their leaders announced the end of the rally at Government House though a few hundred stayed on. Protesters also announced that the rally would move to a different location in the capital Thursday afternoon, but deputy police spokesman Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen warned them not to do so.

Police said they arrested more than 20 people for violating the state of emergency. They have not been officially charged. Among them were protest leaders Arnon Nampha, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Prasiddhi Grudharochana.

“Those who are calling for a protest later at Rajaprasong are clearly breaking the law. Those who attend will be breaking the law. You cannot say that they are not aware of the order. We are making it clear,” Kissana said at a news conference.

Human rights group Amnesty International criticized the crackdown. Its deputy regional director Ming Yu Hah urged Thai authorities to “engage in constructive dialogue with the protesters.”

“The scale of today’s early morning arrests seems completely unjustified based on yesterday’s events. The assemblies were overwhelmingly peaceful. These moves are clearly designed to stamp out dissent, and sow fear in anyone who sympathizes with the protesters’ views," the group said in a statement.

The latest rally started on Wednesday with thousands of protesters marching from Bangkok’s Democracy Monument to Government House. It was the third major gathering by activists who want to keep up the momentum in their campaign for democratic change.

The protesters have drawn attention because of their demands for reforms to Thailand’s constitutional monarchy, which they claim does not properly operate in a democratic framework.

That demand has caused a huge controversy because the royal institution has long been considered sacrosanct and a pillar of Thai identity. It is also protected by a lese majeste law that mandates three to 15 years in prison for defaming the monarchy.

Conservative royalist Thais accuse them of seeking to end the monarchy, an allegation they deny. Before leaving Democracy Monument, several small clashes broke out between protesters and their opponents, who traded punches and threw plastic bottles as police tried to keep them apart.

The situation was complicated by King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s scheduled drive past the protest venue to attend a royal ceremony. The protesters said they would make way but there was a possibility that they could at a minimum show public disrespect for the crown. Several cars normally used by the royal family were seen on nearby streets but their occupants could not be confirmed. Unverified video and photos on social media showed what was purported to be protesters gesturing and shouting close to the vehicles, which would be unprecedented for Thailand, where the royal family has traditionally been revered.

The king made a similar drive past the area on Tuesday after police cleared tents set up near the monument and arrested 21 people on minor charges.

The protest movement was launched in March by university students but quickly put on hold as Thailand was gripped by surges in coronavirus cases. It came back in July, when the threat from the virus eased, and since then has again been spearheaded by students and publicized on social media.

The movement’s original core demands were new elections, changes in the constitution to make it more democratic, and an end to intimidation of activists.

The protesters charge that Prayuth, who as army commander led a 2014 coup that toppled an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. Protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule is undemocratic.

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Associated Press writer Busaba Sivasomboon contributed to this report.

Thai policemen take away a pro-democracy protester during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

A pro-democracy protester pushes the shield of a Thai policeman during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Pro-democracy protesters push Thai policemen with riot shields during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

A pro-democracy protest leaders try to control others at a police barricade during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

A pro-democracy protest leaders lock hands ahead of a police barricade during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Supporters of pro-monarchy in traditional yellow clothing greet pro-democracy protesters with three-fingered salute during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Activist Parit Chiwarak, speaks front of Government house during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Pro-democracy protesters struggle to remove barriers during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protesters struggle with police officers to go past a barrier during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protesters remove barriers and march forward during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protesters remove barriers and march forward during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protesters remove barriers and march forward during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protesters try to defuse a tenses situation with police officers during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protesters struggle with police officers to go past a barrier during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy leaders Parit Chiwarak, center right and Arnon Nampha, center left travel in a truck during a street march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

A pro-democracy protester flashes three-fingered salute after forcefully occupying historic Democracy monument, background in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protest march past a portrait of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn during a protest march in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protesters celebrate after forcefully occupying historic Democracy monument, background in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protesters celebrate after forcefully occupying historic Democracy monument, background in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy activists, from left, Panupong Jadnok, Arnon Nampha, Parit Chiwarak, raise three-finger salutes, a symbol of resistance, during a protest in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Pro-democracy protesters push Thai policemen with riot shields during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

A man rides his bicycle past riots police officers who took position at an intersection leading to the Government House after chasing a small group of pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Riot Police disperse encampment of pro-democracy demonstrators who had camped out overnight after they had marched to Government House – the venue of the prime minister's office on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Riots police officers march chasing a small group of pro-democracy protesters close to Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Riot Police disperse encampment of pro-democracy demonstrators who had camped out overnight after they had marched to Government House – the venue of the prime minister's office on Wednesday,. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Pro-democracy protesters shout at Thai policemen during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Riots police officers march to charge a small group of pro-democracy protesters close to Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Riot police dispersed encampment of pro-democracy demonstrators who had camped out overnight after they had marched to Government House – the venue of the prime minister's office on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Riot police stand in line with riot shields to disperse pro-democracy protesters outside of the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally at Bangkok's Democracy Monument being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

Riot police move in to disperse pro-democracy protesters outside the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally at Bangkok's Democracy Monument being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

A pro-democracy protester is in a car after being arrested by Thai police during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

A pro-democracy protester runs as riot police officers charge close to Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Riot Police disperse encampment of pro-democracy demonstrators who had camped out overnight after they had marched to Government House – the venue of the prime minister's office on Wednesday, Oct. 14. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

A riot policeman talks with an elderly women as they disperse pro-democracy protesters outside the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally at Bangkok's Democracy Monument being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

Pro-democracy protester shouts against Thai policemen during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Pro-democracy protesters sleep in front of Government House during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Protesters sleep in front of Government House during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Pro-democracy protesters move barriers during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Pro-democracy protesters move barriers during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Pro-democracy protesters stand in front of Thai policemen with riot shields during a demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Rapeephat Sitichailapa)

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Credit: Rapeephat Sitichailapa

Riots police officers walk to charge a small group of pro-democracy protesters close to Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Riot Police disperse encampment of pro-democracy demonstrators who had camped out overnight after they had marched to Government House – the venue of the prime minister's office on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Riots police officers withdraw after chasing a small group of pro-democracy protesters close to Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Riot Police disperse encampment of pro-democracy demonstrators who had camped out overnight after they had marched to Government House – the venue of the prime minister's office on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Riots police officers march chasing a small group of pro-democracy protesters close to Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Riot Police disperse encampment of pro-democracy demonstrators who had camped out overnight after they had marched to Government House – the venue of the prime minister's office on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

A riot police holding a gun stands as he prepares to disperse pro-democracy protesters outside the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally at Bangkok's Democracy Monument being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship, amid a heavy police presence and fear of clashes with political opponents. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

Pro-democracy protesters raise three-finger salutes, a symbol of resistance, after Thai police dispersed a group of protesters in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Credit: Sakchai Lalit

Credit: Sakchai Lalit

Riot police move in to disperse pro-democracy protesters outside the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thai police dispersed a group of protesters holding an overnight rally outside the prime minister's office. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

Credit: Wason Wanichakorn

A small group of pro-democracy protesters confrount riot police officers close to Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Riot police disperse encampment of pro-democracy demonstrators who had camped out overnight after they had marched to Government House – the venue of the prime minister's office on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe

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