Thai anti-Government protesters and royalists take to the streets in Bangkok standoff
Thousands of Thai anti-Government protesters and royalist supporters of King Maha Vajiralongkorn staged rival shows of force in the country’s capital this week after three months of demonstrations.
- Thousands marched in Bangkok demanding the departure of Thailand’s Prime Minister and a new constitution
- Royalists said protesters should not challenge monarchy
- The royal palace has not responded to any requests for comment on the protests or the protesters’ demands
On Wednesday, anti-Government demonstrators set off from Bangkok’s Democracy Monument for the Government’s official compound to demand the departure of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and a new constitution.
They have also called for curbs on the constitutional powers of the king and for him to transfer back the personal control he took of some army units and a palace fortune valued in the tens of billions of dollars.
They also said Mr Prayuth, who took power in a 2014 coup, manipulated elections last year to ensure the army’s continued grip.
Mr Prayuth said the elections were fair.
Just metres away, a mixture of security forces, state employees and royalists had all dressed in the royal yellow colour before a royal motorcade was due to pass along the road.
Despite some brief scuffles, the two sides kept mostly apart, but the standoff revived fears of trouble in a country that suffered a decade of street violence between supporters and opponents of the establishment before a 2014 coup.
“Have faith in democracy. We cannot fall back,” protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chirawat told protesters.
Royalist leader Buddha Issara said the protesters could demand democracy, but must not call for reforms of the monarchy, as some have done.
“They must not touch on the institution,” he told reporters.
Protesters made a rare direct challenge to the king on Tuesday, chanting at his passing convoy after 21 activists were arrested during scuffles with police.
Police said detainees would be charged with public order offences on Wednesday.
The protests have become the greatest challenge in years to a ruling establishment dominated by the army and the palace.
Soontaraphon Koonnalei, a flight attendant at the rally, told the ABC she came along because she wanted Thailand to be democratic like other countries she has been to.
“This is the beginning. I am one of the generation that will change this country, my beloved country,” Ms Koonnalei, 26, said.
“You cannot say I am here because I hate my country, I love my country and I want it to be better.”
Ms Koonnalei added that she thought the most pressing issue was the harassment and arrest of opposition activists.
“We cannot change every single thing at once, but for now, for me, [stop] people harassment first and then if we can change that, maybe the monarchy later,” she said.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police had been told to avoid needless confrontation and nearly 15,000 officers had been deployed to keep order.
Police did not intervene as protesters removed potted plants they said authorities had put at Democracy Monument to stop them from reaching what has become a focus of the protests.
The plants were all placed neatly on the road.
The royal palace has not responded to any requests for comment on the protests or the protesters’ demands.
Pro-royalist demonstrations have been small, compared with the tens of thousands who joined the biggest anti-government demonstration in September, but Wednesday’s gathering of royalists was much bigger.
“The establishment in Thailand plays a very dangerous game, mobilising state security forces and ultra-royalist groups to confront with the pro-democracy demonstrators,” said Prajak Kongkirati, a professor at Thammasat University.