BANGKOK — A footage of a protester throwing what appeared to be a fiery object at the police during Sunday’s march to the Grand Palace was seized by the authorities and pro-government information campaign to paint the movement as violent.
Army chief Narongpan “Big Bee” Jitkaewthae said Monday the incident proved that the protest was infiltrated by hardcore elements who wanted to incite violence and prepared fireworks that could set buildings alight, though an activist present at yesterday’s march said the projectile was nothing more than a harmless smoke bomb.
“If the police officers let them pass through, the people who wanted to cause violence would be let through as well,” Gen. Narongpan said of the police’s decision to block the demonstrators from reaching the Grand Palace and sprayed them with a water cannon.
“The protesters didn’t screen their own people. We have already seen in the video that they have prepared something that looks like fireworks,” Gen. Narongpan said at today’s news conference. “They lit it and threw it over the bus.”
He went on, “Let me ask you, if we let them pass through, and they throw it into the City Pillar Shrine or the Temple of Emerald Buddha, and damage the buildings, whether intentionally or not, who would take responsibility for it?”
The short video was also shared widely on the internet by social media accounts allied to the government. The angle of the video suggests that it was taken from one of the CCTVs installed around Sanam Luang.
Pro-democracy activist Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep said he was at the scene on Sunday and had questioned the man who threw the projectile shortly after the incident. Piyarat said the protester told him he wanted to blind the police’s vision and stop them from firing another round of high pressure water at fellow demonstrators.
“He threw it at the police because he thought they were going to spray him again,” Piyarat said by phone. “I think the protests have been very well behaved for the attacks we have weathered. Of course, it’s hard to contain a protest with this organic nature.”
He added, “I’m sure that if this protest took place overseas, people would have tipped cars over and burned things by now.”
The activist also said the object had no smell, sound, or shrapnel, only colored smoke.
“In Thailand we might not be so used to these smoke bombs, but in Hong Kong and Europe people use it in protests to block police visibility,” he said. “Here, we’re more used to these being used for art or pretty photoshoots.”
Demonstrators seeking PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation and monarchy reforms marched to the Grand Palace on Sunday in a bid to deliver their petitions to King Vajiralongkorn.
They were stopped close to the palace by lines of riot police and barricades. A water cannon truck also sprayed water at them – less than a month after police did the same when they dispersed a pro-democracy rally on Oct. 16.