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Thai PM rejects calls for his resignation, faces renewed protests

Thailand's prime minister rejected calls for his resignation Friday, while his government failed to stop student-led protesters from rallying again

Thailand PM  Prayuth Chan-ocha
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures during a news conference after a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand | Photo: Reuters

Thailand's prime minister rejected calls for his resignation Friday, while his government failed to stop student-led protesters from rallying again in the capital in defiance of a strict state of emergency.

More than 1,000 protesters gathered in torrential monsoon rains to push their core demands, including that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha leave office, the constitution be amended and the nation's monarchy undergo reform.

It was the second day they defied an order not to gather, imposed after some demonstrators heckled a royal motorcade, an unprecedented development in Thailand, where the monarchy is normally held in reverence.

Police had earlier closed roads and put up barricades around a major Bangkok intersection where some 10,000 protesters defied the new decree Thursday. Police in riot gear secured the area, while malls in the normally busy shopping district closed early. Nearby mass transit stations were closed to stop crowds of protesters from getting near the area.

The student protesters, however, simply moved down the street to another large intersection.

Prayuth's government declared a strict new state of emergency for the capital on Thursday, a day after the heckling of the motorcade. The state of emergency outlaws public gatherings of more than five people and bans the dissemination of news that is deemed to threaten national security.

It also gives authorities broad powers, including detaining people at length without charge.

A number of protest leaders have already been rounded up since the decree went into effect. On Friday another two activists were arrested under a law covering violence against the queen for their alleged part in the heckling of the motorcade. They could face up to life in prison if convicted.

The protest movement was launched in March by university students and its 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 favour a pro-military party.

But the movement took a stunning turn in August, when students at a rally aired unprecedented criticism of the monarchy and issued calls for its reform. Using direct language normally expressed in whispers if at all, the speakers criticized the king's wealth, his influence and that he spends much of his time outside the country.

Thailand's royal family has long been considered sacrosanct and a pillar of Thai identity. King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other key member of the royal family are protected by a lese majeste law that has regularly been used to silence critics who risk up to 15 years in prison if deemed to have insulted the institution.