BANGKOK - Thai pro-democracy protesters have given the prime minister three days to step down from his post, as government concessions fail to appease demands for major democratic reforms in the kingdom.
Thousands of protesters marched miles down some of the busiest intersections in Bangkok on Wednesday night, snarling traffic and breaking through razor-wire barricades as police melted away.
Buses, trucks and a phalanx of police stopped them at Bangkok's Government House, where they chanted slogans and handed over a petition setting the deadline for Thai leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha to resign.
"If the government doesn't give an answer within three days, the people will return with higher demands than before," Free Youth, one of the main organizers of the protests, said in a Facebook post.
A new constitution and the resignation of Prayut, a former army chief who led a 2014 coup and held onto power in flawed elections last year, are some of the sweeping changes demanded by the unprecedented youth-led movement. The mass protests have shaken Thailand since erupting earlier this year and morphing into daily gatherings for the last week.
Thailand is no stranger to protests, coups and political instability. But the demonstrators have also called for the monarchy, which is protected by harsh defamation laws, to have less power and influence. They have smashed taboos over criticizing the ultra-rich royals openly, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Struggling to quell the demonstrations, which have been rapidly organized through multiple online platforms, Prayut said in a national address late Wednesday he intended to lift an emergency decree in Bangkok that had banned gatherings of five or more people.
"I will make the first move to de-escalate this situation," he said. "We must now step back from the edge of the slippery slope that can easily slide to chaos."
The decree was lifted on Thursday but protesters were not convinced about the sincerity of the move, especially as one of the young leaders, Patsaravalee "Mind" Tanakitvibulpon, was arrested shortly after helping hand over the petition demanding Prayut resign. She was released on bail Thursday morning. More than 20 activists have been arrested on a raft of charges including sedition.