(Updates with end of protest, other details)
By Vorasit Satienlerk and Juarawee Kittisilpa
BANGKOK, July 18 (Reuters) – Police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who tried to march on the office of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Sunday to demand that he resigns for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact.
Some protesters attacked police and eight policemen and at least one journalist were injured in the clashes, police said.
Police did not say whether any protesters were injured, but said 13 protesters were arrested.
Protest organizers called for the protest to end just after 6 p.m., but a standoff between police and hundreds of protesters continued for several hours before police dispersed the crowds just before the start of the protest. a 9 p.m. curfew in effect in the Thai capital.
More than 1,000 people joined the demonstration.
Police intervened forcefully after some protesters attempted to dismantle barbed wire and metal barricades put in place by authorities to block the roads between the Democracy Monument and the government residence where the prime minister works.
Deputy police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen said protesters attacked police with “ping-pong bombs, slingshots and firecrackers”. He added that police actions followed laws and regulations and fully complied with international crowd control standards.
Street protests against the Prime Minister have been staged in recent weeks by several groups, including Prayuth’s former political allies, as frustrations grow over the rise in coronavirus infections and the damage the pandemic has caused to the ‘economy.
Thailand reported 11,397 infections and 101 deaths on Sunday, bringing the cumulative total to 403,386 cases and 3,341 deaths, the vast majority of an outbreak since early April that is fueled by the highly transmissible Alpha and Delta COVID-19 variants.
Many protesters wore fake body bags on Sunday to represent coronavirus deaths.
“The government has mismanaged the situation and if we do nothing there will be no change,” protester Kanyaporn Veeratat, 34, told Reuters.
The protest marked a year since the first in a wave of large-scale street protests led by youth groups that drew hundreds of thousands across the country.
The momentum for those protests halted after authorities began cracking down on rallies and detaining protest leaders, and after new waves of COVID-19 infections erupted.
($ 1 = 32.7900 baht) (Additional report by Panu Wongcha-um edited by Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry)