Thai protesters rally against govt despite Covid curbs

Police deploy rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon on protesters calling for Thai leader's resignation

BANGKOK: Anti-government protesters, out on the streets despite Thailand reporting record Covid-19 numbers yesterday, not only had to contend with the coronavirus but also with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon.

About a thousand protesters defied Covid-19 restrictions to call for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's resignation and mark the one-year anniversary of a pro-democracy movement.

The country is facing its worst coronavirus wave as hospitals buckle under pressure.

It reported 11,397 infections and 101 deaths yesterday, bringing the total to 403,386 cases and 3,341 fatalities.

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

And yesterday it announced an expansion of curbs that include travel, mall closures and a night-time curfew to three more provinces after the country reported a third consecutive day of record case numbers.

Defying rules prohibiting 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. "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 Mr 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, they were led by a front-line group wearing gas masks and hard hats and were joined by motorbike drivers who hoisted the mock body bags.

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

Authorities also fired rubber bullets and tear gas, according to AFP reporters on the ground. That 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 remains unclear how many were injured. - AFP, REUTERS