Thousands protest violence-marred rally at Thai Parliament

BANGKOK (AP) — Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators rallied in central Bangkok yesterday, a day after a chaotic protest outside Parliament was marred by violence that left 55 people injured, including as many as six with gunshot wounds.

Tuesday’s protest had been held to encourage lawmakers to approve a motion that would lead to substantive constitutional change. The protesters gathered peacefully yesterday at a major intersection and then moved as night fell outside the nearby national police headquarters, its gates protected by razor wire and riot police.

They said they wanted to express anger at what they regarded as disproportionate use of force the previous day by police who employed chemical-laced water cannons and tear gas against them. It was the worst violence during months of actions by the student-led protest movement, which has staged increasingly determined rallies of thousands of people around the country.

Sucharn Thoumrungroje, a 20-year-old engineering student, said he decided to attend yesterday’s rally after learning of what happened at Parliament the day before.

“I feel that it is unacceptable that the state used force against its people,” he said. “I understand that there are risks in taking part in rallies but I will come as much as I can to show that we are not afraid and stand firm on our demands.”

Pro-democracy protesters during an anti-government rally in Bangkok, Thailand. PHOTO: AP

The two-day joint session of the House and Senate debated seven motions for amending the constitution. Voting took place yesterday, and the motion backed by the protest movement failed.

That motion, submitted by the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), would have allowed all aspects of the constitution to be changed. Two motions to set up a constitution drafting committee did pass. One, initiated by the governing coalition, calls for the committee to be composed of a mix of appointed and elected members, while the other, backed by the Parliamentary opposition, said all members should be elected. The other motions, mostly dealing with details of proposed changes, all failed.

The motions that passed will have to go through second and third votes after at least a month.

Protest leaders made clear before Parliament met that they would not be satisfied unless the motion submitted by iLaw passed. According to Erawan emergency services, 55 people at Tuesday’s protest were sent to hospitals, the largest number suffering from the effects of tear gas.

It said four remained hospitalised yesterday, including three of the six people it said had suffered gunshot wounds.

The circumstances of the shootings were not announced. Police at a news conference yesterday spoke of only two people with gunshot wounds, and said they were not responsible.

“We are in the process of an investigation into who might be behind the shootings,” said Police Deputy spokesperson Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen. “No rubber or live bullets were used by the police for yesterday’s police operation. That is confirmed.”

Most of Tuesday’s violence occurred when police acted against the student-led demonstrators as they tried to push their way past razor wire and other barriers to enter the grounds of the legislature on the outskirts of Bangkok.

After about six hours of chaos, a protest leader announced the end of the protest, saying the demonstrators had captured enough ground to declare they had achieved their goal of surrounding Parliament.