Fury after Bangkok cops fire rubber rounds at marchers, injuring 16

Police in riot gear beat down one protester, at left, and a protester is treated after reportedly being shot in the head by a rubber bullet, at right. Photos: @IlawFX, @Prachatai / Twitter
Police in riot gear beat down one protester, at left, and a protester is treated after reportedly being shot in the head by a rubber bullet, at right. Photos: @IlawFX, @Prachatai / Twitter

Top officials this morning were defending the chaos that unfolded in Bangkok yesterday after metro police fired rubber bullets and used other aggressive tactics to suppress a peaceful march. Sixteen protesters were injured, and one officer died from a sudden heart attack. 

Metro police chief Pakkapong Pongpetra shrugged off criticism of the use of force, condemned by rights advocates and the twittersphere, against pro-democracy protesters marching Sunday from the Victory Monument to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s residence inside the 1st Infantry Regiment base on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.

“I insist that police officers are using permitted gear for necessary reasons. As you can see, there was violence and people not obeying police orders,” Lt. Gen. Pakkapong said.

Asked by another reporter about a rubber bullet round found on the ground, Pakkapong replied, “I’m not sure who that belonged to. We need to investigate first.”

Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan this morning joined in defending the use of rubber bullets, succinctly telling a reporter that their use “depends on the situation. Plus, police already said that they only followed procedures.”

The rally’s goal was to call for the retired general-turned-PM to resign and to “send a message” to King Vajiralongkorn to return the expansive military base housing Prayuth to the people. 

But protesters were intercepted in the late afternoon by riot police at barbed-wire barriers put in place near the Veterans General Hospital on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.

A tense standoff ensued until police attempted to disperse the crowd at about 6pm with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Twenty-two civilians were arrested.

At least one protester was shot in the head by a rubber bullet, requiring medical attention. According to the Erawan Medical Center, at least 16 people were admitted to hospitals. Some reporters at the scene said some spent bullets recovered from the scene were rubber-coated metal rounds.

Growing anger in the protest movement was evident in scenes of angry young men wielding bats and batons and menacing the officers. Television coverage showed protesters throw bottles at riot police, and a mob later gathered outside the Din Daeng Police Station and threw things into the compound while a police vehicle was set on fire.

Some reporters said that despite wearing identifying armbands, they had to duck the rubber bullets being fired. 

After a number of protesters were injured by rubber bullets, there was palpable anger at the line of cops arrayed across the Vibhavadi Rangsit Road. 

At one point, a protester ascended shipping containers behind the police and urinated on them from on high. In another widely shared clip, the police kept a high-pressure water cannon trained on a protester even after they were knocked to the ground.

Sunai Pasuk of Human Rights Watch cited U.N. guidelines specifying that less-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets should not be used to target the head, face or neck, and rubber-coated metal bullets are particularly dangerous and should not be used.

At 11:30pm, Capt. Wiwat Sinsert of Thammasala Police was reported dead at Ratchawithi Hospital, where he had been taken after sudden cardiac arrest. His death was mourned by both police and also one of the protest’s organizers, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration. 

“We’d like to express our condolences to the dead police’s family,” the group said in a Monday morning statement that went on to attack the highest authorities, including laying blame on the palace for the harsh police tactics. “This tragedy wouldn’t have happened without the order of ‘the boss’ who happily lives off our taxes. ‘The boss’ who invested in repressing the people until one of his officers had to make the ultimate sacrifice. Since your boss sees you, low-ranking police, as disposable, now is the time for you to stand up to serve the people. The police’s boss is actually the people, not the feudalists, as they say.

Read more Coconuts Bangkok stories here.

 

 

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