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Thai police fire water cannons, tear gas to keep protesters at bay

They push back demonstrators who try to cut their way through razor-wire barricades at Parliament

BANGKOK : Thai police blasted protesters with water cannons laced with chemical irritants and used tear gas yesterday in a bid to push back a demonstration at Parliament demanding constitutional changes that would touch on the powerful monarchy.

Protesters are demanding changes to the Constitution drawn up by a former junta. They also want the removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army ruler, and reforms to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The police used water cannons to spray protesters who tried to cut their way through razor-wire barricades. They then fired tear gas at the hundreds of demonstrators.

Some took shelter behind giant inflatable rubber ducks which the protesters had planned to float along the river behind Parliament as lawmakers debated inside.

"What are police thinking by firing water cannons at people? The police are serving a dictator," one protest leader said over a loudspeaker.

At one point, the police were forced to retreat when protesters threw tear gas canisters back into their lines.

Ambulances ferried the injured to hospital. Bangkok's Erawan Medical Centre said five people were hospitalised due to tear gas and others were treated at the scene.

"This is brutal," said a 31-year-old volunteer with the Free Youth protest group who gave his name as Oh.

The group posted pictures of riot police on Twitter with the caption "Dictator's lackeys!"

The police declared that protests were banned within 50m of the area.

"Protesters tried to break through the barricades to enter the restricted area," police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen told reporters.

MP from the pro-reform Move Forward Party Taopipop Limjittrakorn said the police were ignoring pleas to de-escalate the situation. "Police should not be overly violent and threaten the protesters," he told reporters.

Lawmakers inside were discussing several proposals for the way in which the Constitution can be amended - some of which would exclude the possibility of changes to the way the monarchy is treated under the Constitution. - REUTERS, AFP

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