BANGKOK, Aug 7 — Thai police fired tear gas and rubber bullets today at hundreds of protesters in Bangkok demanding political reform and calling for a change to the country’s coronavirus vaccination programme.

Demonstrators defied restrictions on public gatherings introduced as Thailand battles its worst outbreak of the virus to call for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha to quit.

The Thai government has come under fire for the sluggish rollout of its covid vaccination programme, and the protesters also demanded it start using mRNA shots such as Pfizer and Moderna, rather than China’s Sinovac.

The 500 or so protesters were vastly outnumbered by police, who said yesterday they planned to deploy nearly 6,000 officers to tackle the rally.

“I’m worried about the situation but we will have to continue fighting despite the severe covid outbreak,” 27-year-old protester Nat, who only gave one name, told AFP.

A youth-led street protest movement for democracy rose up last year and at its peak drew tens of thousands to rallies in Bangkok.

The demonstrators called for the resignation of Prayut, the former army chief who came to power in a 2014 coup, as well as changes to the military-scripted constitution.

But the most shocking calls were for changes to the monarchy — a long-revered institution in Thailand protected by some of the world’s toughest lese majeste laws.

A Covid spike and the arrest of key leaders saw the protests peter out over the new year and they have struggled to regain the momentum of 2020. — AFP