At least 22 people were arrested and several were injured during a harsh confrontation between pro-democracy demonstrators and riot police in front of the First Infantry Regiment in Bangkok last night, February 28th.
A crowd control officer was reportedly pronounced dead due to an underlying condition of heart disease during the protest dispersal.
The pro-democracy protesters, led by a ‘Free Youth’ group (also called ReDEM), marched from Victory Monument to the Regiment on Viphawadee Rangsit road, where the Prime Minister’s military housing is located, in the evening, to attempt to march to the Prime Minister’s home.
The protesters were surrounded by a long line of security forces and crowd-control blocking barricades, including shipping containers and barbed wire fences. Some of the cargo containers were removed and wires were cut in order for the group to attempt to march into the Regiment (which is private military property) to demand democracy and the end of the military-involved government.
The violent confrontation began at around 6:35 P.M. as firecrackers and smoke bombs were thrown at the police who were blocking entry to the Regiment. It is unclear exactly who threw the devices. A water cannon truck was then used to keep the protesters at a distance, which further angered protesters.
The protest became more intense as protesters were struggling to fight back, reportedly throwing firecrackers, water bottles, rocks, bricks, etc. Several gunshots were heard, and rubber bullets and tear gas were allegedly fired at the crowd of protesters, causing many injuries from both parties.
Protest organizers attempted to call off the escalating protest around 7:00 P.M. but a large contingent of protesters refused to leave, further increasing tension. The Pattaya News notes that this group of protesters announced themselves as “leaderless” and prominent protest leaders that have managed to control the crowds in the past were not present.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a total of 22 people were confirmed as being detained or arrested as of 11:30 PM. last night. Four of them were minors aged 15 to 16 years old. They were reportedly being taken to Border Police Region 1 in Pathum Thani province for processing.
At least 33 police and protesters were injured during the multi-hour clash and were sent to a local hospital. The protests went on until the very early hours of the morning with multiple clashes and scuffles.
As of this morning, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O’Cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan have expressed their condolences on the loss of a police officer who passed away last night during the clash, saying that injuries and deaths should not have happened to any officers and protesters.
Both protest organizers and the government have condemned the violence that broke out last night, although both sides blame the other for escalating tension. Protesters have heavily criticized the use of crowd control tools on protest groups, including young teenagers, while law enforcement officials claim they were attacked first and that protesters were breaking the law by attempting to enter a secure military installation and gathering in violation of Covid-19 related assembly laws.
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