Riot police fired water cannons at crowds of Thai pro-democracy protesters as they tried to reach the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Sunday to deliver messages by hand urging reform of the country’s powerful monarchy.
Demonstrations have spread across Thailand in recent months, led by young men who have risked long prison terms to demand curbing the power and wealth of the royal family, and for the resignation of the prime minister, Prayut Chan-ocha.
On Sunday evening, water cannons were fired briefly into the crowd, but protesters did not leave the area. Later, the protesters, who were wearing goggles and hard hats for protection, moved buses and lowered the barbed wire that the police had used to prevent access to the palace. They carried fake letter boxes, made from old litter boxes and destined for the royal home office, that were filled with messages calling for reform.
In a statement addressed to King Maha Vajiralongkorn, protesters said he should listen to “bold criticism”, as well as flattery and praise.
“It doesn’t matter whether the people love the king or not, he must love them all. If the king can talk to the people who love him, he must also talk to people who do not do the same. People”.
The statement was a reference to the very unusual comments the king made last week when he was stopped by Channel 4 News and CNN while he was wandering among supporters of the royalists, and asked about his response to the demonstrations. Of the demonstrators, the king said: “We all love them the same.” When asked if there is room for compromise, he replied, “Thailand is the land of settlement,” before quickly backing down.
In their statement, the protesters said that their demands for reform were the “utmost compromise”.
Protesters violated a long-standing taboo to demand a royal family that would be accountable to the public. They say that the monarchy’s budget should be reduced and the king’s private funds separated from the crown’s assets. They say the king should not endorse any other coups, nor should the royal family be protected from criticism.
According to the constitution, the monarchy “is crowned at the site of revered worship.” Anyone who “denigrates, insults, or threatens the king, queen, crown prince, or regent” can face up to 15 years in prison.
Sunday was the second time police had used water cannons against protesters, who had gathered for largely peaceful marches in months. Earlier in the day, dozens of royalists staged a small counter rally.
A police spokesman told Reuters the water hoses were fired only as a warning. The emergency unit of the Bangkok authority said that a police officer and four protesters were injured during the brief confrontation outside the palace.
At least 84 protesters have been charged since October 13 in connection with the protests. Charges such as sedition, which carry a sentence of up to seven years, were used against the protesters. Amnesty International recently said that the government is using “very vague and restrictive laws to harass and silence people”.