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Thailand protests hardcore struggle on

Bangkok

The student protest movement that gripped Thailand last year with its taboo-smashing needs for royal reform has generally died down, splintered by infighting and left rudderless by the arrest of numerous key leaders.

But because early August, a difficult core of younger 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 organise through messaging apps and have taught themselves how to make small explosive costs or “ping pong bombs” the usage of manuals observed online.

“We collect at the intersection and cross up the streets, throwing (ping pong) bombs and then they fire rubber bullets back,” 17-year-old protester Fhong told.

Thalugaz, literally “breaking through (tear) gas” in Thai, is a loosely organised group of working-class youth in their teenagers and early 20s with no formal shape or strategy.

Their combative strategy contrasts sharply with the gentler fashion of last year’s demonstrations led by university students who endorsed trade through speeches and political art performances, and adopted a cutesy rubber duck as their mascot.

The police’s handling of those largely peaceable rallies used to be criticised by some as heavy-handed, though they insist it used to be in line with the law and global standards.

But the Thalugaz protesters are decided not to go down besides a fight.

“My friends and brothers obtained crushed to a pulp by who? The riot police,” 18-year-old Thom told.

“If the rebellion police get hold of us, they’d kick and beat us, is that the right issue to do?”

Splintering

At their peak, last year’s protests drew tens of thousands onto the streets of Bangkok calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the former military chief who seized power in a coup in 2014.

They grabbed headlines with their needs for curbs on the strength and wealth of King Maha Vajiralongkorn — exceptional in a country where the monarchy, long revered, is protected by means of stringent lese majeste laws.

But the motion took a hit in early 2021 when leaders have been arrested, new Covid rules limited gatherings, and splits emerged over tactics, ideology and demands.

Where last year’s protests centered on calls for constitutional change and high-level political reform, the Thalugaz youth are centered on financial and social demands.

“In a country where the gap between the prosperous and poor is so wide, (political) movements are unique amongst exclusive training even if they share the equal anti-government agenda,” political analyst Somjai Phagaphasvivat advised.

Many of the younger protesters come from working-class households whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus, with road traders and small businesses forced to quit work in recent months because of strict lockdown measures.

“My aunt used to make 3,000 to 4,000 baht ($90 to $120) a day promoting goods, however now her profits has fallen to 1,000 to 2,000 baht,” Thom said.

He too used to be hit by the pandemic, when he had to shutter his auto restore shop in his native northeastern Surin province. Now he makes a living delivering ice round the capital.

As properly as shouldering the financial burden of the crisis, poorer Thais living in cramped housing or slum dwellings have additionally suffered higher fees of coronavirus infection.

The virus has claimed more than 18,000 lives in Thailand and whilst the top of the third wave has now passed, every day contamination rates are still hovering round 10,000.

As such, it is infrequently a coincidence that the important battleground for Thalugaz, Din Daeng, is a neighbourhood where low-income housing nestles among posh new apartment buildings close to the premier’s residence.

‘Payback’

Despite the unrest, there is some sympathy for the protesters amongst residents.

“The riot police are aggressive so the children retaliate,” restaurant owner Sirirattana Siriwattanavuth, 32, told.

“The protesters have obviously had enough, some of them are a bit radical and they choose payback.”

But Manoon Houngkasem, a 67-year-old food vendor who has lived in Din Daeng for more than 40 years, said most residents are sad with the noise and violence.

It is now not only protesters who have suffered accidents — police have been harm too, such as one officer shot in the head with a copper bullet.

With no sign of Prayut quitting and Thalugaz youths decided not to again down, residents of Din Daeng are facing more sleepless nights.

“If he does not resign, we will maintain up this protest,” said Thom. “I will not provide up.”

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