Thai protesters challenge monarchy as huge protests escalate

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police would not use violence against protesters and it was up to the police to determine and prosecute any illegal speech. (AFP)
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Updated 20 September 2020

Thai protesters challenge monarchy as huge protests escalate

  • Protesters have grown ever bolder during two months of demonstrations against Thailand’s palace and military-dominated establishment

BANGKOK: Openly challenging the monarchy of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, thousands of protesters marched in Bangkok on Sunday to present demands that include a call for reforms to curb his powers.
Protesters have grown ever bolder during two months of demonstrations against Thailand’s palace and military-dominated establishment, breaking a longstanding taboo on criticizing the monarchy — which is illegal under lese majeste laws.
The Royal Palace was not immediately available for comment. The king, who spends much of his time in Europe, is not in Thailand now.
The marchers were blocked by hundreds of unarmed police manning crowd control barriers.
Protest leaders declared victory after handing police a letter detailing their demands. Phakphong Phongphetra, head of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said on a video broadcast from the scene that the letter would be handed to police headquarters to decide how to proceed.
“Our greatest victory in the two days is showing that ordinary people like us can send a letter to royals,” Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, told the crowd before it dispersed.
At the biggest demonstration in years, tens of thousands of protesters on Saturday cheered calls for reform of the monarchy as well as for the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and a new constitution and elections.
Shortly after sunrise on Sunday, protesters cemented a plaque near the Grand Palace in Bangkok in the area known as Sanam Luang, or Royal Field.
It reads, “At this place the people have expressed their will: that this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch as they have deceived us.”
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police would not use violence against protesters and it was up to the police to determine and prosecute any illegal speech.
Bangkok authorities would need to determine whether the plaque is illegal and if it is it would need to be removed, Bangkok’s deputy police chief Piya Tawichai told reporters.
Far from all Thais support the new plaque, which resembles one that had commemorated the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and which was removed from outside a royal palace in 2017, after Vajiralongkorn took the throne.
Prominent right-wing politician Warong Dechgitvigrom said the actions of the protesters were inappropriate and that the king was above politics.
“It didn’t achieve anything,” he said. “These actions are symbolically against the king, but the king is not an opponent.”
Thai authorities have said criticizing the monarchy is unacceptable in a country where the king is constitutionally “enthroned in a position of revered worship.”
Protests that began on university campuses have drawn increasing numbers of older people. That includes red shirt followers of ousted populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who had clashed for years with pro-establishment yellow shirts before Prayuth seized power in 2014.
“The new generation is achieving what their parents and grandparents didn’t dare. I’m very proud of that,” said Somporn Outsa, 50, a red shirt veteran. “We still respect the monarchy, but it should be under the constitution.”
Protesters say the constitution gives the king too much power and that it was engineered to allow Prayuth to keep power after elections last year. He says that vote was fair.
The next protest is scheduled for Thursday. Protest leaders called on Thais to take Oct. 14 off work to show their support for change.
“Radical change is hard in Thailand, but the movement has at least kept the momentum going,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.


Kremlin says it hopes to resolve differences on nuclear arms control pact with Washington

Updated 21 October 2020

Kremlin says it hopes to resolve differences on nuclear arms control pact with Washington

  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia hoped to continue dialogue with Washington on extending the new START treaty

MOSCOW: Russia said on Wednesday it hoped to resolve its differences with the United States over a nuclear arms control treaty that expires in February next year.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia hoped to continue dialogue with Washington on extending the new START treaty. He was speaking a day after the United States welcomed a proposal by Moscow to prolong it by a year if both sides agreed to freeze their stocks of all nuclear warheads for that period.
Signed in 2010, the last US-Russia pact of its kind limits the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers each country can deploy.