Police have used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon against protesters in Thailand’s capital Bangkok as demonstrators defied COVID-19 restrictions to call for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s resignation.
The protests came on Sunday as the kingdom is currently facing its worst wave of COVID-19 infections, registering daily case records as hospitals buckle under pressure.
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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 on businesses.
Defying rules banning gatherings of more than five people, protesters piled mock body bags flecked with red paint near the intersection of the capital’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.
“Prayuth Chan-ocha 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 Prayuth – the mastermind of a 2014 coup – was unfurled on the road, with protesters then stomping on his face.
As they marched on Government House, they were led by a group wearing gas masks and hard hats and 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. It sent protesters scattering, coughing non-stop as they tried to rinse their eyes with saline solution.
By late afternoon, the two sides were standing off as clouds of gas rose in the air. It was unclear how many were injured.
The pandemic toll
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Thailand has recorded 403,000 coronavirus cases and has a death toll of 3,341.
Sunday saw a single-day record in new infections – more than 11,000 – while Saturday brought a new high in deaths with 141 dead.
Domestic flights to and from Bangkok and other provinces classified by the Thai government as high risk from COVID-19 will be suspended starting July 21, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) said on Sunday.
Exceptions are being made for medical flights, emergency landing aircraft and flights in connection with the government’s tourism reopening programmes, the announcement said.
Other domestic fights can only fly at 50 percent capacity.