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Thai PM refuses to step down as protesters defy police

October 16, 2020

Thousands of defiant protesters in Bangkok have been met with water cannon. A prominent dissident has called for reform of the monarchy in comments to DW.

Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha
Image: dpa/AP/picture-alliance

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha refused to step down on Friday as thousands of student-led protesters defied a strict state of emergency in Bangkok.

Riot police hit protesters with water cannon as they ignored orders not to gather for a second day. Protesters are calling for the prime minister to resign, and for reform of the constitution and the monarchy.

The government called a state of emergency on Thursday after protesters heckled a royal motorcade — a rare development in a country where royalty are generally held in reverence.

Read more: Thailand's young pro-democracy protesters challenge military and monarchy

The measure bans public gatherings of more than five people and bans spreading news that could threaten national security. Authorities are also able to detain people at length without charge. 

Two activists were arrested earlier on Friday for their role in the heckling of Queen Suthida's motorcade and are facing potential life in prison.

Prime Minister Prayuth said on Friday that he would not resign as he had done nothing wrong. He said his government hoped to withdraw the state of emergency ahead of its normal 30-day duration "if the situation improves quickly."

Police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen said in comments broadcast on television that officers would apply "the relevant laws in every dimension" against protesters. Minutes later, police moved in to break up the rally, prompting protesters to retreat to a nearby university, where organizers announced the end of the protest for the day.

Dissident calls for overhaul

Prominent Thai dissident Pavin Chachavalpongpun told DW on Friday that the monarch was the source of problems in Thailand, and the king had abandoned his people during the pandemic.

Chachavalpongpun, who is an associate professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University and is living in exile in Japan, said that many Thai people feel the king "is not responsible."

"The king has left the people unattended, especially during this time of difficulties when the when the world and including Thailand are having to go through COVID-19," Chachavalpongpun said.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn has been known to spend a great deal of time in Germany, which Chachavalpongpun  believes was a purposeful choice due to "medical reasons" and the king's "eccentric behavior."

Read more: Thai protesters defy emergency law to call for reforms

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn
King Maha Vajiralongkorn has drawn criticism for his long stays in GermanyImage: Getty Images/P. Changchai

"Being away from home, especially in Germany, he can be away from the Thai press and he can behave as he wishes," he said.

He told DW that reform of the monarchy and constitution are inseparable.

"Talking about the political reform in general, you have to include the reform of the monarchy — considering that the monarchy is, in fact, the source of all the problems in Thailand."

Despite the wave of protests, Chachavalpongpun said that he doesn't think protesters' demands will ultimately be accepted by the government.

"They have shown no sign of compromise," he said, pointing to the government's crackdown and to King Vajiralongkorn's reserved response. "In fact, he has remained silent. And I'm afraid the silence is basically [his] answer to the reform."

The king speaks

Pre-recorded comments from King Vajiralongkorn were broadcast on state television on Friday, with the king still not making any direct comments on the protests.

Addressing a group of ex-communists in northern Thailand yesterday, he said "the country needs people who love the country and love the monarchy."

"All your experience and the things that you've done. You can teach the new generation of your experience. This will be greatly useful," he told them.

aw/rs (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)