BANGKOK — Eyewitnesses on Wednesday said they saw police using tear gas during clashes with anti-government protesters on Saturday – contradicting police’s claims.
Several people who were present on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on Saturday night reported that they saw clouds of smoke and experienced eye irritation – one of the effects of tear gas exposure. Photos and videos captured on that day also show riot police were armed with tear gas launchers while they drove out demonstrators from the area in front of the Grand Palace.
“I can confirm that tear gas was used on that day,” said volunteer health worker Purapon Wongchiak, who was riding a motorcycle near the Phra Mae Thorani Shrine.
Purapon was later shoved and beaten repeatedly with truncheons by riot police in the area. He was charged with violating the emergency decree, held in custody for two days, and freed on bail Monday.
“They used both smoke grenades and tear gas rounds. My eyes were irritated,” Purapon recalled.
Another witness, Adisak Pharam, said his friend was also struck with tear gas. Adisak said he was trying to clean the tear gas from his friend’s face when riot police hit him with batons and took him into custody without asking any questions.
“I was there to help wash my friend’s face,” Adisak said. “Police just hit me and arrested me.”
A policeman can be seen carrying what appears to be a tear gas launcher at 1:02:00 mark.
Police have insisted that no tear gas or rubber bullets were used during the crackdown on Saturday night, although several police officers could be seen carrying tear gas launchers and shotguns at the scene.
“No one used rubber bullets or tear gas. We got the tools but we didn’t use it,” national police commissioner Suwat Chaengyodsuk said Sunday. “We must look at the whole picture. Don’t just take a piece of it and wage information attacks out of it.”
The former Miss Universe Thailand contestant Chayathanus “Cheraim” Saradatta also claimed that she was affected by the tear gas. She said she was trying to hail a cab near the Phra Mae Thorani Shrine.
A policeman can be seen carrying what appears to be a tear gas launcher at 02:05:38 mark.
“My name is Cheraim, Chayathanus Saradatta, the first beauty pageant to be hit by tear gas,” Chayathanus wrote online Sunday. “No one wants to be hit by tear gas, I was only waiting for a cab. I didn’t think that something would happen. This could happen to anyone regardless of their occupation, but my question is whether this is necessary?”
Police spokesman Kissana Phattanacharoen also maintained that crowd control police were only using “shields and bare hands” to push the protesters from Ratchadamnoen Avenue – but the claim was quickly challenged by videos of riot police beating several people with their sticks.
Khaosod English correspondents at the scene observed an unmarked metallic canister on the ground in the area of the clashes. They also saw white smoke, but were too far away to experience any effects from it.
Police had previously denied using tear gas during the crackdown close to Pathumwan Intersection on Oct. 16 – only to admit during a parliamentary hearing a month later that the chemical was indeed deployed on the demonstrators.