BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators are
ignoring the U.S.-backed government's declaration of harsh "emergency
situation" laws, which banned public gatherings, censored the media,
and increased its powers of imprisonment after crowds confronted the
royal family with a three-finger gesture of defiance.

Despite the crackdown, thousands of protesters gathered at a strategic
intersection -- paralyzing the heart of Bangkok near the U.S. embassy
-- flanked by five-star hotels and glitzy shopping malls.

They demanded the immediate release of their arrested protest leaders.

Watched by police on October 15, they also reiterated demands for coup
leader Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to resign, a new constitution
be written, and fresh elections be held.

In the evening, the crowd swelled, lit by neon signs from surrounding buildings.

"Like dogs cornered, we are fighting until our deaths," protest leader
Panupong "Mike Rayong" Jadnok told the cheering demonstrators,
according to Reuters.

"We won't fall back. We won't run away. We won't go anywhere," Mr.
Panupong said.

"U.S. government personnel have been advised to avoid this area," the
American Embassy announced in an public "demonstration alert" on
October 15.

"U.S. citizens should monitor local news and social media reports
before traveling to downtown Bangkok this weekend."

The protesters chose Ratchaprasong Intersection which is considered
the equivalent of Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The U.S.-trained army crushed a violent nine-week pro-election
insurrection there in 2010, resulting in more than 90 deaths.

That barricaded insurrection by rural-based Red Shirts was sustained
by the location's easy access to supermarkets, water, electricity, and
areas to pitch tents, hammocks and mobile kitchens.

The new rally may try to occupy the intersection again if they are
able to defend themselves against security forces tasked with removing

Earlier, just before dawn on October 15, security forces clashed with
thousands of student-led protesters clearing them from streets
surrounding the prime minister's Government House several miles away.

Prime Minister Prayuth, who is also defense minister, then declared a
"serious emergency situation in Bangkok" under an existing state of
emergency in effect since March to deal with the coronavirus.

The new edict allows security forces to set up roadblocks, ban
gatherings of five or more people, arrest suspects without a warrant,
and hold them for 30 days without access to a lawyer, according to
legal experts.

Mr. Prayuth said the crackdown was needed because of "an action that
had an impact on a royal motorcade," plus a danger to national
security, life and property, according to Thailand's official Royal

"The measures were necessary to ensure peace and order, and to prevent
further incidents after protesters affected the royal motorcade and
violated the monarchy with provocative language, government spokesman
Anucha Burapachaisri said.

On October 14, student-led protesters crowded around the cream-colored
Rolls Royce transporting Queen Suthida and her teenage step-son Prince
Dipangkorn who is heir apparent, while police escorted the motorcade
on a narrow Bangkok street.

Pro-democracy demonstrators jeered and slowed the passing motorcade
and displayed a three-finger salute which they adopted a few years ago
as their revolutionary gesture after seeing it used in Hollywood's
"Hunger Games" movies.

The previous day, on October 13, they displayed the salute and yelled
at a motorcade swiftly transporting King Maha Vajiralongkorn in
Bangkok but police kept that crowd farther away, ensuring his Rolls
Royce was not delayed.

Those unprecedented confrontations are illegal under the constitution
which states:

"The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and
shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of
accusation or action."

A separate lese-majeste criminal law can punish violators with up to
15 years imprisonment.

It protects the nuclear royal family and, in some cases, previous monarchs.

Thai and foreign journalists have also faced trials and detention
during the past few decades for alleged violations of the criminal

King Vajiralongkorn, crowned in 2016, heads the armed forces who have
defended the throne for decades.

During the past few years, the constitutional monarch steadily
increased his powers, which the protesters now hope to limit.

He is now one of the world's wealthiest monarchs.

The street confrontations were the first time during the influential
king's reign that the royal family experienced face-to-face opposition
and taunts.

Three senior police officials in charge of the two motorcades'
security were quickly transferred on October 15 apparently for failing
to maintain the historic cocoon of projected reverence which the
monarch and his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, enjoyed.

After the royal motorcades were confronted, police arrested more than
20 people including protest leaders Arnon Nampa, Parit “Penguin”
Chiwarak and Panusaya "Rung" Sithijirawattanakul, who shocked Thailand
in August and September when she repeatedly read aloud 10 demands to
limit the monarchy.

Several of the arrested leaders were charged with sedition which can
result in a lengthy prison sentence.

“This is a violation of my rights and extremely dangerous to me,” Mr.
Arnon, a human rights lawyer, said in a Facebook post after being

Despite street scuffles with police, the rallies had been mostly peaceful.

The protests began in July against Mr. Prayuth who seized power in a
2014 coup and extended his prime ministry in a 2019 election in which
he packed the 250-member Senate with appointees.

Protesters later escalated their demands to limit the monarchy, but
that split their ranks because some people feared that was impossible
now and the taboo issue could result in violence and bloodshed.