BANGKOK — A police commander on Thursday said a tear gas canister which went off during clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and riot police on Wednesday night wasn’t used by the security forces.
Although Bangkok police chief Phukphong Phongpetra admitted that the canister, which was found on the street near Pathumwan Police Station, was the same model of crowd-control munition used by the force, he said it is likely to be stolen and thrown by someone else.
The skirmish on Wednesday evening also left seven police officers injured, he said.
“Many government properties were stolen in past demonstrations,” Lt. Gen. Phukphong said. “If the police are going to use tear gas, we have to make a notification. Officers will have to adjust their movement formations and wear protective gear as well. They did none of that last night.”
Wednesday’s rally was originally held at nearby Pathumwan Intersection to protest the government’s mishandling of the pandemic and the excessive use of lese majeste law.
Protesters then marched to Pathumwan Police Station after word spread that several demonstrators were arrested, and gave the police a deadline at 8.30pm for the release of all protesters.
Shortly before the deadline, at least two loud bangs were heard at Suanluang Square plaza behind the police station. A group of riot police moved in to inspect the explosion and a brief confrontation ensued.
Several people, including Thapanee Eadsrichai, a Channel 3 anchorwoman and founder of online news agency The Reporters, immediately reported feeling eye irritation – one of the effects of tear gas exposure. The canister could be seen with its safety pin ring still attached.
“I heard a loud bang and I can smell tear gas in the air,” Thapanee said during her live broadcast for The Reporters. “I thought it was a firecracker, but after a few minutes I could experience the effects of tear gas.”
Vendors at nearby restaurants also filed a report to the Pathumwan police on Wednesday night and asked police to take responsibility for what happened.
Despite earlier reports saying 10 protesters were detained, police said Thursday they arrested only four. All of the detained protesters were released on Wednesday night.
Police said one of them was charged with violating the public cleanliness act for drawing graffiti, while the rest were charged with possessing walkie-talkies and batons without permit.
Metro police commander Phukphong said investigators are checking the serial number of the tear gas canister found at the scene to see which units it belonged to.
He also said that the force is also considering deploying more equipment such as net guns and rubber bullets after many officers were injured during the past protests.
“They will be used as a last resort,” Phukphong said.