Thai protesters are back and angry as the government is concerned with COVID. fumbles

In the air of monsoon pressure and discontent, riot police in Bangkok dropped rubber bullets and tear gas. Tanat Thanakitamnuay, the scion of a real estate family, was standing on a truck where he had upset Thailand’s leaders for their botched response to the pandemic.

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In the air of monsoon pressure and discontent, riot police in Bangkok dropped rubber bullets and tear gas. Tanat Thanakitamnuay, the scion of a real estate family, was standing on a truck where he had upset Thailand’s leaders for their botched response to the pandemic.

Then a hard object stuck in a tear gas canister hit his right eye and ripped open his retina. Tanat, who once supported the 2014 coup that brought Prayuth Chan-ocha, now prime minister, to power, said the Aug. 13 injury cost him his eyesight.

“I may be blinded, but now I am stronger than ever; I see things more clearly than ever, ”he said. “People knew long ago how incompetent this government is. COVID is just another piece of evidence and evidence. “

Considered a viral miracle not long ago, Thailand has become another example of how authoritarian hubris and lack of government accountability fueled the pandemic. More than 12,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Thailand this year, compared with fewer than 100 last year. The economy is devastated, tourism is virtually non-existent and production is slowing down.

Anger spreads, not just in the streets. Opposition lawmakers in parliament tried to give Prayuth a vote of no confidence, accusing his government of wasting the months-long head start that Thailand had in battling coronavirus. That attempt failed on Saturday, although some members of the prime minister’s coalition briefly sparked speculation that they might support his overthrow.

The late summer launch of the vaccine was further hampered by production delays. A company with no vaccine manufacturing experience, whose dominant shareholder is the King of Thailand, was awarded the contract to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine domestically. The government’s failure to ensure adequate imported supplies made matters worse. Only about 15% of the population is fully vaccinated, and social inequalities have meant that young, rich people are ahead of older, poorer people.

The anti-government protests that are now taking place on a daily basis are becoming more and more desperate and security measures are becoming more aggressive. At least 10 demonstrations were violently broken up in August. A 15-year-old boy was shot once and is now in intensive care. Police deny firing live ammunition.

“People used to say they wouldn’t protest about COVID, but now the thought has changed: ‘You stay home and you will die anyway because the government is unable to take care of the people'” ” said Tosorn Sererak, a doctor who was once a spokesman for the government ousted by the 2014 coup.

More than a dozen civil society groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, wrote a letter on Wednesday urging the authorities to exercise restraint.

“We are concerned about the disproportionate reaction of the riot police to provocations by demonstrators,” said the letter to Prayuth. “We are also concerned about the arbitrary detention of protest leaders who have recently received new criminal charges and who have been denied bail.”

Prayuth, who led the coup seven years ago as army chief, has concentrated power in his own hands, arguing that heightened executive powers are needed to fight the pandemic.

He has tried to suppress public disagreements by imposing a state of emergency and criminalizing certain criticisms. Hundreds have been arrested in recent months for sedition, computer crimes and illegal criticism of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

A prominent politician was charged with insulting the monarch after asking why Siam Bioscience, the king’s company, was contracted to manufacture vaccines for Southeast Asia when it had not yet made them.

At least a dozen leaders of protests that began last year calling for Prayuth’s resignation and reforms to the monarchy are now jailed pending trial. Some contracted COVID-19 while in prison. On Tuesday, a United Nations official expressed concern that protesters detained were not receiving adequate medical care.

Sureerat Chiwarak, the mother of Parit Chiwarak, a protest leader, said her son was infected in an overcrowded Bangkok prison. Parit told his mother that there were far more cases of COVID in prison than the official numbers indicate.

Some people say, ‘Why don’t you give up? You are in control of your child. They put him in jail, ”said Sureerat. “No. The children fight for equality. Why do I have to give up?”

After some of Bangkok’s COVID lockdown measures on Jan.

“When the government is authoritarian, they think they can censor the media, they think they can stop people from protesting,” said Rangsiman Rome, an opposition lawmaker. “But every day people come out to protest and demand change.”

During the peaceful protests last year, the riot police were largely reluctant, despite their many years of shooting demonstrators.

Their reaction this summer has been tougher, with protests often quelled before they can band together. The police now regularly use rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons with burning chemicals. The protesters respond with their own arsenals, including flamethrowers and slingshots.

Oppositionists say the urge to face the police during a pandemic is a sign of widespread desperation.

“People who have supported the government have also become infected and that makes them rethink and wonder why they are suffering so much,” said Rangsiman.

On August 29, two anti-government protests joined forces in Bangkok. The first was a gathering of hundreds of cars and motorcycles. After a period of intense honking, they dispersed.

The second rally, smaller and angrier, took place in a business district. Motorcyclists used to cover their license plates and helmets to hide their faces. Other protesters hid behind balaclavas. Nobody wanted to speak openly about why they were there.

The tear gas began to flow before dark and the police fired streams of purple water, presumably to tag the protesters. Low drones echoed and smoke filled the air as protesters hurled projectiles. When night fell, small fires were burning. On Saturday riot police set up shipping containers to prevent a rally while a minor protest broke out in violence.

Tanat, the protester who was partially blind last month, is a beneficiary of the privilege that has split Thailand into a tiny group of haves and tens of millions of dispossessed, a rift that has caused political turmoil for years. He said some of his wealthy friends have also started attending rallies and hopping on their chauffeur’s motorcycles to get there instead of being driven in their usual Rolls-Royces or Maybachs.

But most of the protesters belong to the fighting class, which has been further impoverished by the pandemic. Nipon Somnoi said her son Warit Somnoi, 15, offered to leave school to help the family, but she would not allow it.

The boy landed at a protest rally in mid-August. Video footage she can’t stand shows the moment a bullet struck his neck and, as confirmed by a CT scan, was stuck to his spine. The police reiterated that the security forces did not use live ammunition. Nipon said she didn’t know what to believe.

Her son has been in a coma for more than two weeks. She fears that his fate will be forgotten as her family is neither rich nor famous.

“Sometimes I think a tear gas canister could buy six to eight doses of a good quality vaccine,” said Nipon. “The state keeps saying that we are a democracy, but it only listens to its own voice.”

At the end of last month, she was sitting in the hospital, stroking her son’s face and asking if he could hear her.

“There were moments when I called his name and saw his eyelids move,” she said. “Tears flowed. But I do not know.”