The Thai king requires unity after the demonstrators have switched on the motorcade once more
© Reuters. Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida open a new subway station in Bangkok
By Juarawee Kittisilpa and Matthew Tostevin
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn explained the importance of unity to well-wishers as he marked the opening of a new railway line on Saturday after thousands of protesters turned their backs on his motorcade en route through central Bangkok.
Around 2,500 demonstrators had gathered at the capital’s democracy monument in the last months of the protests against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and demanded changes to the constitution and reforms of the monarchy.
The protesters draped the centerpiece of the memorial, which has become a rallying point for the protests, in a sheet covered with complaints and insults. “The dictatorship will be destroyed, democracy will flourish,” shouted demonstrators who had climbed the three-meter structure.
When the motorcade with the King and Queen Suthida passed by, they turned away, greeted the pro-democracy activists with three fingers and sang the national anthem in the recent demonstration of discontent with the monarchy.
The king was greeted with a demonstration of support when he arrived at the railroad ceremony to the west of the city, where thousands of people in yellow shirts had gathered, waving national flags and chanting “Long Live the King”.
“He told me to show children the importance of country unity,” said Donnapha Kladbupha, 48, a teacher who posed for selfies with the king.
The Royal Palace has not spoken out since the protests began, but the king said two weeks ago that the protesters were still loved and that Thailand was a country of compromise.
“Think well, do good, be hopeful, endure. Have unity in being Thai,” wrote the king on the back of a picture of himself and the queen that had been held up by a trailer.
The first focus of the protests, which began in July, was the dismissal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. But protesters have increasingly called for reforms to the monarchy and broken a long-standing taboo against criticism of the institution – a crime punishable by 15 years in prison.
“Without the people, the government and monarchy will have no power,” said Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, one of the protest leaders. “Are you ready to take a step back or find a consensus that we can agree on?”
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