Thai authorities have cordoned off the area under a series of emergency measures announced on Thursday to quell pro-democracy protests.
Three of the nearly two dozen top activists arrested under a decree banning more than four rallies following student-led protests against the government.
A day after protesters challenged the royal motorcade – a three-finger salute from “The Hunger Games” books and movies – in an unprecedented act of contempt against the monarchy.
After the emergency measures announced on Thursday morning, hundreds of people who camp overnight outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Bangkok riot police dispersed protesters.
Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Santipong Thampia downplayed the presence of military officers around some government buildings, saying on Facebook they were there to “help law enforcement”.
Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha was army chief when the army seized power in the 2014 uprising before winning a civilian election in March last year.
Among those arrested was student leader Parith Chivarak, another prominent activist, Panusaya Sitijiravattanakul. The arrest was broadcast live on Facebook.
Anon Numpa, another senior member of the protest movement, said he was forcibly taken by helicopter to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand “without my lawyer”.
“This is a violation of my rights and very dangerous to me,” he wrote on Facebook.
It was not immediately clear how those arrested were accessing their social media accounts.
In addition to limiting meetings to four, the new emergency measures are “suspected of causing electronic communication equipment, data and weapons to cause emergencies,” a government spokesman said.
“These are orders banning meetings of five or more people … and prohibiting the distribution of news through electronic media that affect national security,” the spokesman said in a statement.
– ‘Fan Nationwide’ –
The order came as thousands of demonstrators rallied around the Bangkok Democracy Monument on Wednesday before the Royal Motorcade carrying King Maha Waziralongkorn and his family was scheduled to drive.
Many protesters were kept away from the king to the police, there were dozens of the motorcade was traveling. Queen Sutida, seated next to Prince Deepangkorn Rasmijoti, looked out of a limousine window and the protesters saluted with three fingers.
Such open challenges to the monarchy are unheard of in Thailand, where the influence of the royal family extends to every aspect of society.
Leading opposition figure Tanathorn Zhuangrungrungkit condemned the crackdown, calling on the government to “release all those arrested”.
“The government must quickly find a way to respond to the demands of the protesters, otherwise the situation will deteriorate across the country,” he said.
Student leaders took to social media to urge supporters to take to the streets on Thursday, but there were no immediate signs that the calls were being ignored.
“Come into force – just giving moral support from home is not enough,” said the Free Youth Movement, which has organized massive demonstrations in recent months.
Police say they will set up checkpoints around Ratchaprasang Junction, a major crackdown site in 2010, after Thailand’s top trending Twitter hashtag called for people to come there.
The king spends most of his time in Europe, but in recent days has been in Thailand for the annual Buddhist celebration and the anniversary of his father’s death.
Enormously wealthy, he has the support of a powerful military – which has long been the protector of the monarchy – as well as the founding elite.
– History of mayhem –
There have been many public uprisings in Thailand’s tumultuous modern history, which has endured political unrest and more than a dozen military coups since 1932.
In the latest protests, leaders have repeatedly said they want the monarchy to be in line with modern times.
Among their demands was the repeal of a strict royal defamation law – which would protect the king from criticism – and the emperor should stay away from politics.
Dozens of activists have been arrested, charged with treason and released on bail since the latest protests began.
Government spokeswoman Anucha Burapachaishree on Wednesday ordered police to lay charges against “protesters who obstructed the Royal Motorcade”.
“They must face legal procedures without exception.”
Burr / Fox