Thai king’s stay in Bavaria causes headaches in Berlin

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Angela Merkel’s government has warned Thailand that the Thai king should stop conducting state affairs from German soil, in an unusual intervention that comes at a time of nationwide student protests in the kingdom.

It has long been an open secret that King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who was crowned Rama X last year, lives most of the time in Germany. German media reported that he is staying with his family in a hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in the Bavarian Alps.

Bavarian State Green Party politicians, who questioned the king’s tax status, say they have established that he was living in a villa in Tutzing on Lake Starnberger near Munich at the time of his late death father King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016.

The issue of the king’s foreign residence has now become a critical issue in Thai domestic politics, with members of the student-led protest movement that have been staging protests regularly since July often making critical or satirical references to the fact that he lives in Germany.

Maria Adebahr, spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry, said on Friday that the government had repeatedly stressed to the Thai ambassador in Berlin that “the state’s foreign affairs should not be pursued from German soil. “. “We have made our position clear,” she said.

The king has only been to Thailand this year for a short vacation. However, he arrived on Saturday for what Thais expect to be a longer stay. Thammasat University announced that the King and his wife Queen Suthida will participate in a graduation ceremony in late October.

Video: Why young people protest in Thailand

Asked last week about Germany’s response to the king’s engagement in domestic politics from German soil, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “We would always clearly counter the efforts of our country’s guests to to direct the affairs of state of our country. ”

He was responding to a question from Frithjof Schmidt, member of the opposition Greens, who asked why the German government had for months allowed the king to engage in domestic politics from Bavaria.

He cited the example of the king’s role in preventing his older sister, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, from running as a candidate for the prime minister’s Thai Raksa Chart party, which was disqualified shortly before the March 24 elections.

In Thailand, the media and the palace rarely address the issue of the king’s residence abroad due to the risk of violating laws protecting the royal family from criticism.

But the tone has become less respectful as the student protests have gathered pace. Protesters demand the resignation of the royalist government of Prayuth Chan-ocha and the scrapping of the Thai military constitution. They are also making unprecedented calls to limit the powers of the monarchy.

Protesters promise to hold their next mass event on Wednesday at the Bangkok Democracy Monument, which commemorates the 1932 uprising against absolute monarchy in what was then Siam.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Adebahr said the Thai authorities had assured Berlin that “it is the Prime Minister who runs the affairs of government, and the King of Thailand, as head of a constitutional monarchy, which is Thailand, lives in Germany in a private capacity ”.

But “if there was evidence that the king was indeed conducting government business from here, and that would require a reaction from us, then we should assess the situation when that happens,” she said. added.

Mr. Schmidt, the Green MP, also asked Mr. Maas if the German government could push to freeze negotiations on a free trade agreement between Thailand and the EU as long as the Thai authorities continue to “block the way. of democracy in Thailand ”.

Talks were suspended after the 2014 coup, but resumed in late July after the new government was sworn in.

“In fact, I consider an option that we in the EU should keep open,” said Maas. He added that the free trade agreement could be used as “leverage” to encourage a return to democracy in Thailand. “But I wouldn’t want to rule that out if they continue to behave as they are now. . . that we could also [freeze trade talks]. »

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