Thai protesters challenge King's military command

Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling decades of military domination.
Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling decades of military domination.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thousands of anti-government Thai protesters marched to an army barracks on Sunday (Nov 29) to challenge King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s personal control over some army units. 

It was the latest act of defiance against the king by protesters who have broken taboos by criticising the monarchy.  The Thai constitution says the monarchy must be revered and laws ban insulting the institution. 

Protesters, many carrying inflatable ducks which have become a protest mascot, stopped at the gates of the 11th Infantry Regiment, part of the King’s Guard that played a role in the suppression of anti-establishment protests in 2010. 

Lines of riot police blocked protesters at the gate. 

“No democratic country sees a king control an army. In any democratic country with a king as head of state, armed forces report to the government,” said Arnon Nampa, a rights lawyer and protest leader who has been a frequent critic of the monarchy.

“We’ve been seeing the monarchy expanding its powers. That’s why we’re here today.”

The Royal Palace has made no comment since protests began, but the king himself said recently that protesters are loved “all the same” despite their actions. 

Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling decades of military domination. There have been 13 successful coups since 1932, when absolute rule by the monarch came to an end.

Protests which began in July initially demanded the departure of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former junta leader, and a new Constitution, but now also seek to curb the powers of the King.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that the country adhered to the rule of law, but that the right to freedom of speech must keep within it.

"In every case where the law is violated, officials take action with strict adherence to the appropriate legal processes without discrimination," the ministry said.

Mr Prayut has rejected protesters' demands that he quit, along with their accusations that he engineered last year's election to keep power that he first took from an elected government in 2014.