Thailand: Thousands join Bangkok rally demanding PM’s resignation

Demonstrators blame Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha for the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic,

Demonstrators show the three-finger salute during a protest against Thai government’s handling of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and to demand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s resignation, in Bangkok, Thailand, September 2, 2021 [Chalinee Thirasupa/Reuters]

Thousands of protesters have gathered in Thailand’s capital to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, promising to keep up pressure until he leaves office.

Thursday’s demonstration at the Asoke intersection in central Bangkok was one of the biggest such gatherings this year despite a warning from the police earlier in the day that protests were banned due to coronavirus restrictions.

Protests against Prayuth have gained momentum since late June as groups who sought his removal last year return with broader support from people angered by a worsening coronavirus situation.

The demonstrators blame Prayuth for his handling of the pandemic, particularly his failure to secure timely and adequate supplies of vaccines. Just 13 percent of Thailand’s population of more than 66 million people has been fully vaccinated.

The country has recorded more than 1.2 million infections and 12,103 deaths since the pandemic started last year, with most of the cases and deaths occurring since April this year.

 

Corruption accusations

Separately, Prayuth is facing a grilling in Thailand’s parliament in a censure debate that started earlier this week. The opposition accuses the prime minister and five other cabinet ministers of corruption, economic mismanagement and bungling the coronavirus response.

Prayuth and his ministers have rejected the accusations and defended their performance to the parliament.

While the governing coalition is expected to survive the no-confidence vote scheduled for Saturday, due to their parliamentary majority, protesters say they will continue taking to the streets.

“The members of parliament have to choose between the people and Prayuth who has failed, causing losses and deaths of more than 10,000 people,” said Nattawut Saikua, one of the main organisers of the protest.

“If Prayuth passes the no-confidence vote and remains prime minister we will continue to drive him out,” he added.

While the demonstration at Asoke was peaceful, a smaller group of anti-government protesters set off firecrackers and burned car tyres near the prime minister’s residence in another part of the city.

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‘Enough’: Australian newspaper The Age comes out against extended lockdown in fiery editorial

Protesters march through the streets during an anti-lockdown rally in Melbourne on August 21, 2021 as the city experiences it’s sixth lockdown while it battle an outbreak of the Delta variant of coronavirus. © William WEST / AFP
Australia’s The Age newspaper has sparked fresh division in Victoria after publishing an extensive editorial article harshly criticizing the state government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and recent lockdown extensions.

On Wednesday, the paper published an editorial headlined “Victoria can’t go on like this.” The piece condemned Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews and the Labor State Government over its extension of harsh lockdown measures and a lack of evidence to back them up.

The restrictions were maintained despite officials conceding it was no longer possible to achieve zero cases in the state – an ambitious pursuit championed by Andrews.

There comes a point, and The Age believes that point has been reached, where the damage caused by the harshest and longest lockdowns in the country needs to be more seriously factored in,” the editorial reads.

On social media, it immediately sparked a divide in the already polarized Victoria between those supportive of the premier’s continued lockdowns and those who have had enough.

The paper noted the concessions that Andrews said would be made after reaching a 70% vaccination rate, such as extending allowed travel distance to 10km from 5km, but implied they were not enough. “The night curfews remain in Melbourne, despite limited evidence they make a difference,” it added.

Mental health repercussions and damage to the young Victorians’ education were also at the heart of The Age’s appeal. “Enough,” they declared, imploring Andrews that the state “needs hope.

No more lectures about compliance. No more measures that have limited if any evidence to back them just in case they might assist around the edges.

It added that it was not arguing for a total end to restrictions, but that the government should “work out those that could be lifted at minimal risk to health but with maximum benefit to Victorians” and move towards a “more balanced position.

The state can no longer live like this,” the editorial concludes.

The statement resonated with many on social media who supported the paper’s stance, but others were quick to mock it.

ABC journalist Leigh Sales praised the newspaper for its “strong” words and reiterated that “Victorians are past the point of endurance.

Michael Rowland, another ABC journalist, also showed his support, agreeing with The Age’s criticism of what they claimed to be a “lack of proper information” coming from the state government.

One critic, however, said The Age should be behaving “more responsibly” and “supporting the measures” to keep Victoria safe. “We don’t have alternatives,” they said on Twitter.

Another person tweeted “F**K The Age” and followed up with the hashtag #f**ktheage, which was then retweeted by #Istandbydan followers.

Andrews’ supporters initiated a campaign to cancel the paper, despite the fact that it has been rated by some media fact-checking agencies as left-leaning.

One person released a photo on Twitter with the phone number to call to cancel one’s subscription to the paper. “If you love Victoria, keep it beautiful and put rubbish like The Age in the bin,” they said.

Another, however, raged at the paper, which said it should be apologizing “for its own complicity in the madness” of harsh lockdowns in the first place.

In August, the capital of Victoria, Melbourne, marked a total of 200 days of lockdowns during 17 months since the pandemic began. Still in lockdown, the state’s inhabitants found out this week that they will remain under restrictions for at least another three weeks, despite being told measures would end on Thursday.

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