Thai police fire rubber bullets, tear gas at protesters

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An anti-government protester tries to control smoke from a tear gas canister fired by riot police during a protest in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. Protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha for what they say is his failure in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.(AP Photo/Thanachote Thanawikran)

BANGKOK – Police in Thailand's capital fired rubber bullets and tear gas on Friday to stop hundreds of protesters who were attempting to march to the prime minister's residence to demand he resign over his handling of the country's coronavirus crisis.

It was the third anti-government protest in Bangkok this week blocked by police with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at Bangkok's Victory Monument, where they burned a large pile of spoiled fruit to symbolize the economic costs of what they called the government's failure to properly control the outbreak.

Thailand reported a record 23,418 new COVID-19 cases on Friday. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's government has been heavily criticized for failing to procure timely and adequate vaccines.

The protesters from the youth-led Thalu Fah group then started walking toward Prayuth’s residence in an army camp but were blocked after less than a kilometer (about half a mile) by barrier made of shipping containers. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas when the protesters attempted to remove the containers.

Tanat “Nat” Thanakitamnuay, a leader of a group that organized protests in 2013-2014 that led to a military coup that brought Prayuth to power, has recently withdrawn his support for the former general and joined the anti-government demonstrations.

“I have had enough with this government. They don’t help people at all,” he said Friday. “Unless we have a democratic government, these problems will never be solved.”

Although the demonstrations have focused on the COVID-19 crisis, they are part of a wider push for sweeping political change that includes Prayuth’s resignation, a new constitution and -- most contentious of all -- fundamental reform of the powerful but opaque monarchy.

The rallies earlier fell away due to legal action by the authorities, infighting among protest groups and the coronavirus resurgence, but resumed recently as organizers capitalized on growing public discontent over the state of the country.