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Thai police defend use of force against protesters critical of COVID management

A man waves the Thai national flag in a convoy of protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha over what they describe as the government’s failure to curb the coronavirus pandemic, Bangkok, Thailand, August 10, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Police in Thailand have emphasized the necessity of retaining public safety by using force against protesters defying a ban against social gatherings.

Police confronted the protesters in the capital Bangkok on Tuesday, as they gathered to demand the resignation of the prime minister for allegedly imposing restrictions infringing upon their democratic rights, while failing to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Police decided to use tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets because we considered that if we don't, there will be more damage," Bangkok police chief Pakapong Pongpetra told reporters.

Nine police officers were injured in the clashes -- one of them was shot in the leg -- while the others were hurt by firecrackers, rocks and shrapnel from improvised explosive devices, and at least two police traffic boxes were torched, according to police reports.

Public property was damaged, police said, adding that 48 people were arrested, including 15 youths.

Police also confiscated 122 motorcycles that were used by the protesters to drive in a convoy through Bangkok.

The protesters, who had converged near the residence of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former military government leader who masterminded a coup in 2014, called for another rally on Wednesday.

Last year, Thailand witnessed a police crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests.

In spite of the restrictive measures and a vaccination campaign launched by the government to curb the pandemic, the Southeast Asian country saw a resurgence of the disease in the past weeks with new cases hovering around the 20,000 mark daily.

The protesters blame the government for the slow rollout of vaccines across the country, as well as the economic hardships resulting from the restrictions imposed on businesses to curb the spread.

Until now, Thailand’s vaccination program has relied on China's Sinovac and Sinopharm shots.

Only 6.8 percent of Thailand's 66 million people have been fully vaccinated. Almost 800,000 cases of the disease have been reported. The COVID death toll in the country stands at around 6,600.

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