Bangkok protesters skate for democracy

Wheels as weapon: Skateboarders gathering during a protest in front of the Democracy Monument in Bangkok. — AFP

Kickflipping skateboarders are flipping the bird at authorities, joining pro-democracy rallies in Bangkok to vent their anger over a lack of respect and dedicated public space for extreme sports.

A youth-led pro-democracy movement kicked off in Thailand in July last year, demanding reforms to the monarchy, a rewrite of the constitution and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

A third coronavirus wave and the detention of protest leaders sucked much momentum from the movement but there have been near-daily small-scale rallies since June.

The sluggish rollout of the vaccination, and the financial pain from restrictions has heaped pressure on Prayut’s government.

During a recent demonstration at the Democracy Monument, groups of skaters slid over metal bars and benches while others scaled the central part of the monument to drape a giant cloth banner with anti-government messages.

Nattakarn Tewarit, 17, says he and his fellow skaters are maligned as troublemakers and deserve greater respect after the sport was included in the recent Tokyo Olympic Games for the first time.

“We see skateboarders being shooed away by security guards,” he said, adding building new skateparks would mean fewer collisions with pedestrians in public spaces.

“Normal protesters use their voices as a tool against the government but we use skateboards – they are our weapon.”

Fellow skater Thana, 19, is upset about the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and says most skateboarders are working-class youngsters whose families have been hit hardest by the pandemic and restrictions.

New cases on Wednesday tallied close to 12,000 after hitting a peak of 23,000 infections a day last month – but testing rates have also declined.

The closure of Bangkok’s few dedicated skateparks, as part of restrictions, has also had an impact.

“It’s where lost souls come together,” Thana said, adding the hobby had helped many of his friends cope with depression.

“It’s more than just a sport.” — AFP

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