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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Three hurt as protesters march for reform of Thai monarchy

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Three pro-democracy activists have been injured during a rally in Bangkok which criticised a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court.

Hundreds of protesters had planned to march to the capital’s Democracy Monument on Sunday over a ruling which said their demands for reform of the monarchy are tantamount to attempts to overthrow the system of government.

The protesters changed route after police blocked their way, and instead trooped to the German Embassy to submit a petition.

A protest representative read out a statement saying the rally was being held to protect democracy and raise voices against absolute monarchy.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn is a frequent visitor to Germany and is believed to have travelled there recently.

Police and the city’s Erawan emergency service confirmed three injuries among the protesters, two of whom were later discharged from hospital while one remained for treatment.

The cause of the injuries is not clear, deputy police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen said, adding there were explosive sounds heard as the protesters made their way to the embassy.

According to local media reports, two of the protesters were shot in front of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the Police Hospital.

The protesters burnt effigies of the Constitutional Court judges to protest against the court’s ruling on Wednesday that some previous calls for reform of the monarchy were illegal.

The decision implied that the authority of the royal palace supersedes other institutions in a country that is nominally a democracy under a constitutional monarchy.

It appeared to broadly deter all calls for reform of the monarchy by highlighting there are legal liabilities beyond a royal anti-defamation law under which more than 150 activists have been charged in the past two years.

The protests were started last year to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who came to power in 2014 by staging a coup as army commander; amendment of the constitution to make it more democratic; and reform of the monarchy to make it more accountable.

The demand for reform of the monarchy is the most radical and controversial because the royal institution has rarely faced public scrutiny and is considered by many to be a sacrosanct pillar of Thai identity. Its reputation is fiercely guarded by the country’s ruling elite, including the courts and the military.

The statement read outside the German Embassy said the protest movement is “the fight to insist that this country must be ruled with equality”.

Sirachad Treewisawawet, a representative from the Coalition of Salaya for Democracy, said the protest against the threat of what he termed “absolute monarchy” will continue until its goals are achieved.

Protesters say Mr Vajiralongkorn, who took the throne after the death in 2016 of his father, has steadily accumulated power and has downplayed the historical significance of the 1932 revolution which established a constitutional monarchy.

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