Thai protesters keep up fight to oust prime minister
BANGKOK (AP) — Protesters gathered Sunday in the Thai capital Bangkok, seeking to rejuvenate their movement to oust the country’s prime minister and institute political reforms.
More than 1,000 people gathered peacefully at central Bangkok’s busy Asoke intersection, while a militant faction that has made a tactic of confronting the authorities clashed with police elsewhere.
Protest organizer Nattawut Saikua, a veteran activist and former deputy Cabinet minister, said the rallies at the Asoke intersection will continue every evening.
The protests came a day after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha survived a no confidence vote in Parliament. That offered him a brief respite from widespread criticism that his government had botched its response to the pandemic by failing to secure timely and adequate supplies of COVID-19 vaccines.
The protesters’ targeting of Prayuth predates any controversy over vaccines, and began last year as a pro-democracy movement. Their three core demands had been resignation of Prayuth, who initially came to power as army commander by staging a coup in 2014; amending the constitution; and reforming the monarchy to make it more accountable.
The movement lost steam due to its leaders’ arrests, COVID-19 restrictions and controversy over its critical view of the monarchy, an institution fiercely guarded by the country’s ruling elite, including the military.
But Prayuth’s sinking popularity over the vaccine issue and accusations of corruption have given the protesters an opportunity to garner fresh support, even though attendance at recent rallies has failed to match those held last year, which sometimes attracted upward of 20,000 people.
Sunday’s rally drew disparate groups together. They included participants in recent “car mobs” who had staged mobile protests in their vehicles; “Red Shirt” supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006; and progressive students with the tongue-in-cheek moniker “Bad Students,” whose focus has been education reform.
Speakers from the protest stage also included Tanat Thanakitamnuay, the heir to a real estate fortune who had once been active on the other side of the political fence in his support of the military and the monarchy. He now is a prominent protest voice whose profile was raised last month when he suffered a major eye injury as police tried to disperse demonstrators with tear gas.