Giant rubber ducks become symbol of Thai pro-democracy rallies

On the frontline of Thailand’s pro-democracy protests a new and unlikely mascot has emerged: a giant, inflatable duck.

When demonstrators tried to get past concrete barricades and gather outside parliament on Tuesday, they faced a police response that rights groups have described as unnecessary and excessive. The protesters, who are calling for democratic reforms including curbs on the power of the monarchy, were repeatedly fired at with teargas and water cannon. Some of the water blasts contained chemical irritants.

Amid the chaos, a collection of giant ducks, initially brought to the protest as a joke, were promptly repurposed as shields. They have since been celebrated as heroes of the movement.

Images of the standoff were shared widely on social media. So too were photos taken later of battered looking ducks, saggy and coated in purple dye fired from the water cannon.

A pro-democracy protester with a somewhat deflated duck
A pro-democracy protester with a somewhat deflated duck. Photograph: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images

At a further rally on Wednesday, protesters held signs praising the ducks’ bravery, and demonstrators carried a flock of them above their heads as they marched on the Thai police headquarters. “Stop harassing the people and inflatable ducks,” read one sign. Protest artwork has emerged online, portraying the ducks as muscular fighters protecting students and as a superhero figure.

Young activists in Thailand have regularly used humour and creativity, said Tracy Beattie, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute who specialises in Thai politics. “This time, yellow inflatable rubber ducks have become a new symbol for the pro-democracy movement, not just because they are cute but also because they highlight the sheer absurdity and disproportionality of the situation,” she said.

Human Rights Watch has expressed concern about the police response, and said it had observed the use of water cannon jets laced with purple dye and an apparent teargas chemical, teargas grenades and pepper spray grenades on Tuesday.

At least 55 people were injured, most from inhaling teargas, according to Bangkok’s emergency medical service. Clashes also broke out between the pro-democracy activists and royalists. Six pro-democracy demonstrators were treated for gunshot wounds.

The police denied using live ammunition or rubber bullets, and say they were investigating. Water cannon were used on Tuesday because protesters were attempting to break into a restricted area near parliament, a spokesperson said.

A protester dressed as a clown poses for media photographers with his duck
A protester dressed as a clown poses for media photographers with his duck. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

The ducks were initially brought to Tuesday’s rally to mock the authorities, who had blocked access to the parliament building. Protesters joked that the only way to reach parliament, where possible changes to the constitution were under discussion, would be to send rubber ducks along the river. They wanted MPs and senators to approve a proposal that would undo changes that were made to the charter under military rule, but this was rejected.

Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong activist who has supported the Thai pro-democracy movement, praised the protesters’ inventiveness. “Creativity wins,” he said on Twitter. “Long live rubber ducks.”

The Guardian

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