Thai police fired water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters in Bangkok for a second day on August 11 as demonstrators rallied against the government and its handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Protesters defied a ban on public gatherings as Thailand tries to curb its worst virus outbreak so far, with more than 21,000 new infections announced on August 11.
The slow rollout of the kingdom’s vaccination programme as well as financial hardship from restrictions are fuelling public anger towards Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government.
About 150 demonstrators gathered at a major intersection by Bangkok’s Victory Monument on the afternoon of August 11, intending to march to Prayut’s residence.
They quickly dispersed when riot police moved in but regrouped in a cat and mouse game with officers throughout the evening.
Earlier protesters burnt an effigy of a Thai judge who had denied bail to leaders of past protests.
“Police are not our enemies. Our true enemy is the government,” one protester told the rally.
Authorities then used shipping containers to block the route to Prayut’s residence, prompting a separate clash in heavy rain as police fired rubber bullets and tear gas from an elevated road.
Protesters retaliated by flinging projectiles and setting a police tow truck on fire, sending black smoke pluming into the air.
Sporadic clashes continued into the evening, with police deploying water cannon.
Eight officers were injured, mainly by protesters throwing fireworks, police said, adding that they had made 13 arrests.
Royal Thai Police deputy spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen told reporters: “The protesters repeatedly attacked police by throwing firecrackers, ping pong bombs, and [using] slingshots.”
Demonstrators also clashed with police in Bangkok on August 10, with 48 arrested and nine officers injured including one shot in the leg.
Officers used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets while protesters retaliated with firecrackers and rocks.
Bangkok police, facing accusations of heavy-handedness, have insisted their approach is in line with the law and urged people not to jeopardise public health and safety.
A youth-led pro-democracy movement began in Thailand last year and at its peak drew tens of thousands of people to rallies demanding the resignation of Prayut, the former army chief who came to power in a 2014 coup.
The movement broke long-held taboos by demanding reforms to Thailand’s monarchy, and scores of protesters have been hit with multiple royal defamation charges, which carry maximum penalties of 15-year jail terms.
But the movement lost momentum as Covid-19 cases surged and its leaders were detained.
A Bangkok criminal court on August 11 denied bail to protest leader and human rights lawyer Anon Numpa, citing concerns over the likelihood of further offending and breaching bail conditions.