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How giant rubber ducks became shields for Thai pro-democracy protesters

A Twitter photo posted on November 17 shows Thai pro-democracy protesters brandishing large rubber ducks as protection in the streets of Bangkok.
A Twitter photo posted on November 17 shows Thai pro-democracy protesters brandishing large rubber ducks as protection in the streets of Bangkok. © Twitter @OldMan_b1
Text by: Diana Liu
5 min

On November 17, Thai pro-democracy protesters faced off against royalist demonstrators and the police in violent clashes near the country’s riverside parliament in Bangkok. Fifty-five people were injured in the clashes. A curious addition to the protest were large, inflatable rubber ducks, used by protesters as safety shields as police bombarded them with water cannons and tear gas.

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Since July, a youth-led protest movement for democratic reform of the Thai government and monarchy has mobilised tens of thousands of people across the country. 

A series of photos posted on Twitter on November 17. The caption reads: “Good job, duck. Thank you. You are really helpful for us”.

The November 17 protests took place near the Thai Parliament, which was blocked off by concrete blocks and razor wire while lawmakers debated seven bills to reform the constitution.

Amidst escalating violence between the different parties, the ducks made their appearance.

“Rubber ducks became protesters’ shield to protect themselves from the water and the tear gas”

“Crystal”, a pro-democracy protester in Bangkok who requested anonymity, said that the rubber ducks were initially designed to mock the military-backed government.

Since the Parliament House is located by the Chao Phraya River, the protesters were saying that they would gather and ride the rubber ducks to the pier as an insult to the government – not that they would actually ride the ducks. [Editor’s note: the Parliament was otherwise inaccessible due to the barricades.]

However, when the water cannon was brought to the scene, rubber ducks became the protesters’ shields to protect themselves from the water and the tear gas.

A November 17 Twitter video shows pro-democracy protesters, kitted out with helmets and protective goggles, and brandishing rubber ducks, coughing after being hit by tear gas. The caption reads: “The sound of the protesters coughing from a sore throat, stinging nostrils, and tearing gas was clear. The protesters only had rubber ducks without weapons. But the police took measures that were too extreme.”

The pro-democracy protesters also used the ducks as shields when a violent clash broke out with yellow-shirted royalist demonstrators, the first of its kind during the ongoing protests.

A Twitter video posted on the same day shows royalist demonstrators throwing water bottles and other small items at pro-democracy protesters, who use a rubber duck to block the flying debris.

In a more zoomed-out video of the scene posted by Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, Rojanaphruk narrates that “they are telling people to stop, they say we are all Thais, but some are still throwing water bottles and bricks. Both sides are still throwing things”.

Among the 55 people injured during the protest, medical officers said that six suffered gunshot wounds, although it is not clear who was responsible for the shooting. The police denied using live rounds or rubber bullets during their operations.

Rubber ducks: a new symbol in Thailand’s pro-democracy movement

After fulfilling their duty to protect protesters yesterday, the ducks have emerged in a new day of protests as another symbol of Thailand’s pro-democracy movement.

Twitter images posted on November 18 show the ducks lined up en masse and protesters holding duck signs that read “Salute Yellow Ducks”.

A Twitter video posted on the same day shows the ducks being lifted in the air amid cheers from protesters.

The Thai Parliament is voting on November 18 on which constitutional amendment bills are to be further debated. The most popular proposal among the pro-democracy protesters, presented by Thai NGO iLaw, would replace military-appointed senators with elected officials and allow changes to be made in constitutional articles regarding the monarchy

The protesters' key demands are the resignation of prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, (a former military leader who seized power in a 2014 coup and was elected in the disputed 2019 general election), greater scrutiny of and limits on the monarchy, and the democratic revision of the current constitution. None of the six other proposals include provisions for monarchical reform.

As the voting continues, CNN reported that almost all the senators and coalition party members had either abstained from voting or rejected the bill proposed by iLaw.

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