PM calls for understanding as senior police officer dies in violent Sunday night riots in Bangkok near his home
Sunday evening saw a coordinated crowd of 1,500 young protesters throw firework devices and other objects at police as they openly confronted lines outside the 1st Infantry Regiment compound and the home of the Prime Minister. They appeared organised and used the messaging app Telegram to coordinate including a vote on whether to disband the protest which came through at 8.30 pm.
Speaking after the death of a senior police officer during violent rioting near his home on Sunday evening, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha, has called for more understanding between the sides as the Deputy Chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, Police Major General Piya Tawichai pointed to the increasing violence being shown by the protesters.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha has extended his condolences to the family of a senior police officer who died during violent clashes on Sunday evening when a group calling itself ‘Restart Democracy’ clashed with police riot officers near his army welfare home within the compound of the 1st Infantry Regiment on the Vibhavadi Rangsit Road in Bangkok.
The new movement is linked to the original Free Youth group which launched the student-led protest wave last July calling for the overthrow of the present government, reform of the constitution and the monarchy.
Senior police officer died at Rajavithi Hospital
The officer who died was named as Police Lieutenant Colonel Wiwat Seritsanit. The deputy inspector at Thammasala Police Station suffered a heart attack at the height of the melee with loud and explosive clashes between roughly 1,500 protesters throwing firecrackers and reportedly carrying weapons, and 2,000 riot control officers with the Metropolitan Police Bureau.
Police Colonel Wiwat was rushed to the Rajavithi Hospital but died while receiving emergency treatment at the facility. The officer had a prior heart condition.
Student-led protest movement is using more violent and confrontational tactics with police
The confrontation between protesters and police on Sunday follows a noticeable change of tactics by the protest movement which in recent weeks has openly confronted police forces and inflicted injuries on officers.
An internal debate and indeed division was reported in January between leaders of the protest movement and internal factions on the use of violent and confrontational tactics.
The movement actively sought to recruit members who were capable of confronting police lines at the end of 2020 following violent clashes outside Parliament House and the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police.
At the time, one of the protest leaders, now being held in Bangkok’s Remand Prison, the human rights activist Arnon Nampa, appeared to suggest the importance of the movement sticking with nonviolent means to advance its agenda.
Target of the protest was the PM’s residence within the army compound on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road
On Sunday night, no less than 22 police officers were admitted to Police General Hospital while only 10 protesters were taken to several local facilities for treatment including Rajavithi Hospital, Ramathibodi Hospital and Rama IX Hospital.
The target of the protesters on Sunday was the army compound near Vibhavadi Rangsit Road which police had cordoned off with a series of empty containers.
This was the scene near Veterans General Hospital, just after 6 pm on Sunday, where the confrontation between the two sides began.
Firework devices containing gunpowder thrown into police lines as well as other objects
Police lines came under attack from the protesters for about an hour with objects being thrown including firecrackers which are explosive fireworks that include gunpowder.
Officers responded with the use of tear gas and rubber bullets as the situation deteriorated.
It is understood National Police Commissioner, Suwat Jangyodsuk, was personally at the scene after some of the protesters broke into the army compound which contains the welfare home of the Prime Minister.
His presence helped the police regain control over the situation.
General Prayut was the target of this Sunday’s demonstration with the protesters shouting out calls for him to resign. This was a young crowd, many of whom came armed with canvas sheeting to protect themselves against tear gas.
Scene of a young man on a container urinating on police provoked social media frenzy of debate
The protesters appeared to be acting in concert and directed by leaders on the ground. During the confrontation, police also deployed water cannon and there were pauses negotiated by medical teams.
Police also offered to desist from firing rubber bullets or tear gas if the protesters would pull back and remain peaceful.
There was a social media frenzy at one point when a young man standing on one of the shipping containers erected as a barricade near the army compound, began urinating on top of riot police.
A video clip of that incident went viral and created a storm of commentary with some Thais agreeing wholeheartedly with the protester’s vulgar antics on the basis of what they saw as aggressive police force being used while others deplored his actions as showing a lack of respect for the dignity of police officers simply doing their duty.
Vote called on social network app Telegram
During the chaos at the site of the protest which descended into a riot, at one point, the Restart Democracy movement called a vote using the social network app Telegram which appears to be widely used by the movement.
The secure and simple messaging app, based in Dubai, is used by protest groups in Iran and other countries because of its speed, simplicity and security.
The result of the vote, which was known after 8.30 pm, was to call off the protest because of the escalating violence.
Metropolitan Police Bureau deputy chief defends his officer’s response to the situation on Sunday night
Afterwards, the Deputy Chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, Police Major General Piya Tawichai, issued a statement in which he noted the escalating use of violence and confrontation by the protesters.
The top policeman defended the response from his officers in trying to uphold the law. He pointed out that government property had been attacked and damaged.
He confirmed 22 protesters had been arrested by the police and they were being detained by the Border Patrol Police Bureau in Pathum Thani province.
Arrested protesters face charges for violating the Covid-19 emergency decree and property damage
Police Major General Piya confirmed they faced charges for breach of the Emergence Decree related to Covid-19 and causing damage to government property.
In the meantime, opposition groups have criticised the police use of force on Sunday night. The activist group, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, pointed out that one of those arrested by police was a 16-year-old.
In his statement on the death of the policeman, the man at the centre of Sunday night’s riotous storm, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, called on the police to show patience towards protesters and for those on the streets to have more regard for the law and those tasked with upholding it.
About the Author
Carla Boonkong is a magazine writer who writes extensively about woman’s issues in Thailand. One of her key subjects is the story of Thailand’s growing influence in the world and the role played by Thai women in the process. She is now a staff writer with Thai Examiner.com in Bangkok. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.