Thai King flies to Germany as calls for reform of the monarchy persist

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Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn is said to have visited Germany in what would be his first overseas trip since pro-democracy protests escalated last year, breaking long-standing taboos to call for reforms of the monarchy.

German tabloid Bild reported that Vajiralongkorn arrived in Bavaria on Monday, where he said he and his entourage of 250 and 30 royal poodles had booked an entire floor of the Munich Hilton Airport hotel for 11 days.

His previous extended stay in Bavaria, in a villa on Lake Starnberg at the height of anti-government protests last year, became a diplomatic problem in Germany when Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that the state should not be conducted from German soil. .

“We have made it clear that the policy regarding Thailand should not be conducted from German soil,” Maas told the Bundestag in October 2020. “If there are any guests in our country who have been conducting their state affairs since then our soil, we would always like to act to counteract that.

A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry later said he was assured that state affairs were handled only by the prime minister of Thailand while the king was in Germany on private business.

Protesters in Thailand had criticized the king for his extended trips abroad and called for changes to limit his powers and wealth. They argued that the king should relinquish control of the royal funds and key army units he had placed under his direct command. They also argued that the lese majesté law, which prohibits criticism of the royal family, should be repealed.

Since the protests, at least 156 people have been charged with lèse majesté, punishable by up to 15 years, including 12 minors. Twenty-four protesters were denied bail and remain in pre-trial detention for their political activities.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that protesters’ calls for reform of the monarchy amounted to an attempt to overthrow it. Their claims constituted an “abuse of rights and freedoms and undermined state security,” said the court, which ordered their elimination. Rights groups have warned that this could pave the way for treason charges for protest leaders.

As a result of the ruling, the court’s website was hacked, according to local media, and replaced with the clip for Guillotine by hip hop group Death Grips, while the text was changed to read “kangaroo court “.

Student groups from 23 universities released a joint statement rejecting the decision, while images on social media showed protesters holding placards in public calling for the abolition of the lese majesté law, also known as name of article 112. Some have stuck signs on the glass doors of the fashion store of Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya, daughter of the king, on which one could read “reform is not synonymous with overthrow” and “abolish the 112 ”. Four people were later arrested over the signs, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

The protests for the reform of the monarchy were unprecedented in Thailand, a country where the constitution states that the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship”, and where portraits of the monarchy are displayed in the streets, in schools. and in many companies.

In a sign of changing attitudes among the Thai public, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday urged moviegoers not to abandon the tradition of standing tall when the royal anthem is played before the movies. Prior to the pro-democracy protests last year, it was rare for people to sit still and in some cases people who chose not to stand up were attacked.

Prayuth said some people were afraid to stand up, fearing they would be intimidated by pro-democracy activists. “We have to be brave to stand up. It is not obligatory but we are in the same family ”, he declared Thursday in a speech.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, who lives in exile due to his criticism of the Thai military and monarchy, said that it seemed likely that the king was convinced that the protest movement was under control despite the recent public debate on the lese majesté law.

“Suddenly, in the last two weeks, the issue of abolishing or reforming section 112 has come up, and this is directly related to the issue of reforming the monarchy. The fact that he has decided to leave now in the middle of this debate in Thailand, it shows that he is kind of confident, ”he said.

“If you ask me this question of an analyst [perspective], of course, trust could be a miscalculation. It’s like simmering water, boiling water, the lid can come off at any time, ”Pavin said.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Ratcliffe


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