Thousands join convoy protests against Thai PM

Protesters make the three-finger salute as they gather for a demonstration in Bangkok on August 15, 2021, calling for the resignation of Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha over the government’s handling of the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

Thousands of protesters in cars and on bikes massed in Bangkok’s central shopping district Sunday, one of several mobile rallies across Thailand demanding Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha resign over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The kingdom is grappling with its worst outbreak so far, registering record numbers of daily infections each week as hospitals struggle to cope. In total, it has reported more than 907,000 cases and 7,551 deaths from Covid-19.

A sluggish vaccine roll-out — coupled with financial woes from weeks-long restrictions on businesses — has fanned anger at Prayut’s administration.

Sparked by concerns about public gatherings spreading the virus, protesters have in recent weeks turned to organising massive car convoys at major intersections — thus clogging up Bangkok’s already traffic-choked streets.

Thousands turned up in their cars and motorbikes Sunday in at least three rallies across the Thai capital — with the largest near Bangkok’s gleaming shopping malls, empty in recent weeks.

“The time is up for Prayut. The government has shown clearly they will not take responsibility for any loss,” shouted Nattawut Saikuar, a politician long associated with former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Protesters flashed the three-finger salute of resistance.

More so-called “car mobs” were also planned in the beach city of Pattaya just two hours from Bangkok, as well as in the northern cultural hub of Chiang Mai.

The anti-government movement first gained momentum last July.

At its peak, it drew tens of thousands to street rallies, demanding the resignation of Prayut — a former army chief who came to power via a 2014 coup.

But attendances have waned this year, as the public stayed away due to Covid-19 fears.

Sunday’s protests come after a week of clashes between demonstrators and police, who have increasingly used rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas to quell the rallies.

At least three protesters were injured Friday, but authorities have defended their use of force as appropriate.

“We only use it (force) when it is necessary,” National Police chief Suwat Jangyodsuk told a Sunday press conference.