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Thai democracy protesters make Japan cartoon hamster their symbol

A demonstrator holds a stuffed Hamtaro toy during a protest demanding the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha in Bangkok last month. | REUTERS. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

BANGKOK, Aug 2, 2020, Reuters. Thailand’s emerging student pro-democracy movement has adopted a Japanese cartoon hamster, Hamtaro, as a creative way to get support from young people around the country, The Japan Times reported.

University and high school students have rallied almost daily in the past two weeks to demand the dissolution of parliament, an end to the harassment of government critics, and amendments to the military-written constitution that critics say helps maintain the army’s influence over the political system.

This past week, three of the protests were themed around Hamtaro, where protesters ran around public places in circles, emulating a hamster wheel, while singing a modified version of the cartoon’s jingle, saying the government loves feasting on taxpayer money and demanding that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha dissolve parliament.

“The Hamtaro cartoon is what on television every morning, so it connects with us easily,” said Pumiwat Rangkasiwit, 20, a student activist from a group called New Life Network.

Publishing house Shogakukan, which owns the license to Hamtaro, declined to comment on the use of the cartoon in the Thai protests.

Student groups have used social media to find new ways to protest, via the hashtag #Ideaformob, leaders said. Groups are also planning other themes for protests, including those involving Naruto, another Japanese cartoon character, and Harry Potter.

“Young people grew up with these popular culture characters and they help add new dimensions to our movement, making it relatable and easy to communicate with young people,” said Jutatip Sirikhan, 21, president of the Student Union of Thailand.

Activist Chutimon Kritsanapanee, 21, from Kasetsart University in Bangkok, said: “Some people may not be able to relate but the main thing is we want to tell others about the failure of this government through these gimmicks.”

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