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Thai protesters and police face off as tensions rise in Bangkok

Bangkok

THOUSANDS of Thai protesters came face to face with police and pro-establishment groups in Bangkok on Wednesday, the most tense scenes yet in a student-led push for greater democracy and less power for the monarchy.

The police used transit buses, fences and barbed wire to block protesters from marching to Government House, the office of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Demonstrators urged police to let them through as they sought to surround the complex until the weekend.

Minor scuffles broke out as a group of royalist government supporters clad in yellow shirts confronted protesters at Democracy Monument, where demonstrators removed flowers in a symbolic gesture to show they were taking back the country's democracy.

Police sought to keep the two groups separated.

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The protesters are calling for the resignation of Mr Prayut, a former army chief who staged a coup in 2014, and a rewriting of the constitution drafted by a military-appointed panel that helped him stay on following elections last year.

They also want curbs on the monarchy, such as prohibiting the king from endorsing any coups and revoking restrictive laws that criminalise insults against King Maha Vajiralongkorn and top members of the royal family.

The baht fell as much as 0.5 per cent to 31.285 to a US dollar, a one-week low, and the benchmark SET Index of stocks tumbled as much as 1.2 per cent as the continued protests weighed on investor sentiments.

The Thai currency is the second-worst performer in Asia this year as foreign investors turned net sellers of the nation's stocks and bonds.

"While the political situation has so far been under control, the lingering protests do not bode well for the Thai economic recovery, which remains dependent mainly on domestic drivers at this stage," said Tim Leelahaphan, an economist at Standard Chartered in Bangkok. "Political developments have made us cautious on the economic outlook for the rest of this year and into early 2021," he said.

Mr Prayut said on Wednesday that he will continue "working as usual".

National police spokesman Yingyos Thepjamnong said officers will try to prevent clashes between the two sets of protesters.

The police are also on the lookout for anyone attempting to create chaos among the protesters, said spokesman Kritsana Pattanacharoen.

School and university students, as well as labour groups and the movement's supporters outside of Bangkok, are expected to be at the gathering, according to Parit Chiwarak, one of the organisers who wrote a 10-point demand calling for monarchy reform. BLOOMBERG

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