As night falls on a bustling junction close to the heart of Bangkok, gangs of young protesters take on police with slingshots, firecrackers and homemade “ping pong” bombs, turning the streets into a battle zone.
The student protest movement that gripped Thailand last year with its taboo-smashing demands for royal reform has largely died down, splintered by infighting and left rudderless by the arrest of several key leaders, but since early August, a hard core of young working-class protesters calling themselves “Thalugaz” have fought near-nightly street battles with riot police armed with tear gas, rubber bullets and chemical-laced water cannon.
They organize through messaging apps and have taught themselves how to make small explosive charges, or “ping pong” bombs, using manuals found online.
“We gather at the intersection and move up the streets, throwing [ping pong] bombs and then they fire rubber bullets back,” 17-year-old protester Fhong said.
Thalugaz, literally “breaking through [tear] gas” in Thai, is a loosely organized group of working-class Thais in their teens and early 20s with no formal structure or strategy.
Their combative approach contrasts sharply with the gentler style of last year’s demonstrations led by university students, who advocated change through speeches and political art performances, and adopted a cutesy rubber duck as their mascot.
The police’s handling of those largely peaceful rallies was criticized by some as heavy-handed, though they insist it was in line with the law and international standards, but the Thalugaz protesters are determined not to go down without a fight.
“My friends and brothers got beaten to a pulp by who? The riot police,” 18-year-old Thom said. “If the riot police get hold of us, they’d kick and beat us, is that the right thing to do?”
At their peak, last year’s protests drew tens of thousands onto the streets of Bangkok calling for the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who seized power in a coup in 2014.
They grabbed headlines with their demands for curbs on the power and wealth of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn — unprecedented in a nation where the monarchy, long revered, is protected by stringent lese majeste laws.
The movement took a hit early this year when the leaders were arrested, COVID-19 regulations limited gatherings, and splits emerged over tactics, ideology and demands.
Where last year’s protests focused on calls for constitutional change and high-level political reform, the Thalugaz are focused on economic and social demands.
“In a country where the gap between the rich and poor is so wide, [political] actions are different among different classes, even if they share the same anti-government agenda,” political analyst Somjai Phagaphasvivat said.
Many of the young protesters come from working-class families whose lives have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, with street traders and small businesses forced to stop work because of strict lockdown measures.
“My aunt used to make 3,000 to 4,000 baht [US$91 to US$121] a day selling goods, but now her income has fallen to 1,000 to 2,000 baht,” Thom said.
He, too, was hit by the pandemic, when he had to shutter his auto repair shop in Surin Province. Now he makes a living delivering ice around the capital.
As well as shouldering the economic burden of the crisis, poorer Thais living in cramped housing or slum dwellings have also suffered higher rates of COVID-19 infection.
As such, it is hardly a coincidence that the main battleground for Thalugaz, Din Daeng, is a neighborhood where low-income housing nestles among upscale new apartment buildings close to the prime minister’s residence.
Despite the unrest, there is some sympathy for the protesters among residents.
“The riot police are aggressive, so the kids retaliate,” restaurant owner Sirirattana Siriwattanavuth, 32, said. “The protesters have obviously had enough, some of them are a bit radical and they want payback.”
Manoon Houngkasem, a 67-year-old food vendor who has lived in Din Daeng for more than 40 years, said most residents are unhappy with the noise and violence.
It is not only protesters who have suffered injuries — police have been hurt, too, including one officer shot in the head with a copper bullet.
With no sign of Prayuth quitting and the Thalugaz determined not to back down, residents of Din Daeng are facing more sleepless nights.
“If he does not resign, we will keep up this protest,” Thom said. “I will not give up.”
WIDE REOPENING DISCOURAGED: A study from Peking University has suggested that lifting restrictions in the style of the US, UK and others would be catastrophic China would face a “colossal outbreak” on a scale beyond anything any other country has yet seen if it were to reopen in a similar manner to the US. That is a prediction based on statistical modeling by researchers at Beijing’s Peking University. A switch from China’s current COVID-19 elimination strategy to a US-style approach with few restrictions would lead to as many as 637,155 infections per day, according to the study, which was published by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. That would be the largest daily figure reported by any country since the start of the
MOBS, TEAR GAS: Anti-government protests deteriorated and led to looting and arson, as the Pacific nation’s PM said he regretted a return to the country’s ‘dark days’ Rioters torched buildings in the Solomon Islands’ capital of Honiara yesterday, targeting the city’s Chinatown district in a second day of anti-government protests. Eyewitnesses and local media reported that crowds had defied a government lockdown to take to the streets. Live images showed several buildings engulfed in flames and plumes of thick black smoke billowing high above the capital. It followed widespread disorder on Wednesday, when demonstrators attempted to storm parliament and depose Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. Businesses operated by Honiara’s Chinese community were looted and burned, prompting Beijing’s embassy to express “serious concerns” to the Solomons’ government. The embassy “made representations
NOT ELIGIBLE: Most of those charged over democracy protests were born after the UK handed Hong Kong back to China, figures form Hong Kong Watch showed More than 90 percent of people who have faced protest charges in Hong Kong are too young to access a UK visa scheme dedicated to helping Hong Kongers flee to the UK, say advocates and lawmakers calling for new laws to assist them. The release of the figures on Sunday by advocacy group Hong Kong Watch comes before a British parliamentary debate this week on proposed migration law amendments that would widen the pathway for people with British National Overseas (BNO) status to resettle in the UK. More than 10,000 people were arrested during or after the mass protests that swept Hong
An episode of The Simpsons in which the cartoon family from the US visit Tiananmen Square has been removed from Disney’s streaming channel in Hong Kong at a time when authorities are clamping down on dissent. The missing episode adds to concerns that Chinese-style censorship is becoming the norm in the territory, ensnaring global streaming giants and other major tech companies. Disney+ has made rapid advances since it was launched 18 months ago, reaching more than 116 million worldwide subscribers. The Hong Kong version started streaming earlier this month and eagle-eyed customers soon noticed that an episode of The Simpsons featuring China was