Thailand's embattled premier yesterday vowed to protect monarchy and called for a special session of parliament as protesters planned more rallies to demand his resignation, the release of jailed activists, and reforms to the monarchy.
Tens of thousands of mostly young protesters have taken to the streets in the past week in defiance of an emergency decree banning gatherings of more than four people.
Police said around 20,000 people protested across the capital Sunday, although activists and local media estimated much bigger crowds.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha yesterday said parliament -- currently in recess -- would be recalled to discuss how to reduce tensions. "We support opening an extraordinary session to solve this conflict," he told reporters, warning protesters not to break the law.
"The thing the government must do is to protect the monarchy. This is the duty for all Thai citizens to perform," Prayut continued. "I would call for peaceful protests, the government has reasonably given in. We are avoiding using force as much as we can.
The largely leaderless movement is calling for the resignation of Prayut -- a former army chief and mastermind of a 2014 coup -- as well as the re-writing of the military-drafted constitution they say rigged last year's election in his favour.
Most controversially, protesters are also making unprecedented demands to reform the powerful and ultra-wealthy monarchy. They want the abolition of a draconian defamation law that shields King Maha Vajiralongkorn from criticism, greater transparency of royal finances, and for the monarch to stay out of politics.
Prayuth has said he will not quit.
The movement appeared to be gaining traction across the country with smaller protests taking place Sunday from Phuket in the south to Khon Kaen in the northeast.
Apart from arrests by police, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society said it had flagged more than 325,000 messages on social media platforms that violated the Computer Crimes Act, which critics say is used to muzzle dissent.
Thai police yesterday said they had ordered an investigation of four news outlets under emergency measures introduced last week and imposed curbs on messaging app Telegram to try to stop protests.
By midday, #SaveFreePress was the latest hashtag trending on Thai Twitter, one of several platforms being used by tech-savvy protesters to coordinate their activity.