Thai police fire rubber bullets, tear gas at protesters

Published July 19, 2021
BANGKOK: A pro-democracy protester throws an object at police as others take cover from water cannon behind a derogatory image of Thailand’s prime minister during a march on the Government House on Sunday.—AFP
BANGKOK: A pro-democracy protester throws an object at police as others take cover from water cannon behind a derogatory image of Thailand’s prime minister during a march on the Government House on Sunday.—AFP

BANGKOK: Thai police on Sunday deployed rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon against protesters who defied Covid-19 restrictions to call for Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s resignation and mark the anniversary of a pro-democracy movement.

The kingdom is currently battling its worst Covid-19 wave, registering daily case records as hospitals buckle under pressure.

Exacerbating the toll has been the government’s slow procurement of vaccines, which has drawn criticism as Thailand’s economy reels from increasingly severe restrictions.

Defying rules prohibiting gatherings of more than five people, protesters piled mock body bags flecked with red paint near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument.

“We will die from Covid if we stay home, that is why we have to come out,” shouted a protest organiser, who listed three demands.

“Prayut Chan-O-Cha must resign without any condition; the second is a budget cut to the monarchy and army to be used against Covid, and the third is to bring in mRNA vaccine.”

A giant banner with a picture of Prayut — the mastermind of a 2014 coup — was unfurled on the road, with protesters then stomping on his face.

As they marched on the Government House, protesters led by a frontline group wearing gas masks and hard hats were joined by motorbike drivers who hoisted the mock body bags.

But authorities deployed water cannon early and blocked the main road, forcing protesters to retreat.

Police also fired rubber bullets and tear gas, scattering the protesters, according to reporters on the ground.

About 700 metres from the Government House, they stood off against dozens of riot police, using slingshots to fling projectiles and firecrackers at them.

They also set fire to the mock body bags, flashing a three-finger salute — the movement’s symbol of resistance — as they sang Les Miserables’ “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

By sunset, as the smouldering fire mixed with the tear gas and smoke grenades fired by authorities, the protest organisers called off the rally — though some stragglers remained.

Authorities defended their actions, saying that warnings were issued before any tear gas, water canon or rubber bullets were fired, and that eight police officers were injured.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2021

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