Leave the monarchy alone – Thai Minister warns protesters

Protest peacefully, but keep the Thai monarchy out of it – that’s the gist of a warning from the Digital Economy and Society Minister referring to recent political protests that have been raising questions about Thailand’s revered Head of State. Rallies by royalist students and opposition parties have ended without incident at this stage although there have been a number of arrests, charges and “attitude adjustment” lectures.

Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta says that while it was “normal for people to hold different political opinions, they must not violate the rights of others nor offend the highest institution in the country”.

“Protecting the monarchy was not only the duty of the government but of the people too.”

“But we have to be careful not to infringe others’ rights or offend the country’s highest institution. Nobody will accept it.”

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Mr Buddhipongse also had a warning for people on social media saying they must careful as “some information had been distorted, leading to misunderstanding, confusion and even hatred”.

The Minister has warned protesters from both sides to “avoid confrontation”, saying such clashes would be damaging to the country.

Anti-government protesters have been holding regular demonstrations about constitutional issues, demanding a new charter and accusing the government of stifling free speech.

It’s starting to get complicated following the names of all the protest groups – the Coordination Centre for Vocational Students, he People Protecting the Institution (supporting the Thai monarchy), the Committee Campaigning for a People’s Constitution, the Coordination Centre of Vocational Students for the Protection of National Institutions, Free Youth, Association for the Protection of the Constitution. The groups are also getting increasingly creative with flash mobs, using cosplay and narrative to code their complaints as fantasy, and posting their protests on social media.

Whilst their demands for constitutional reform, a change of government and greater freedom of speech have been consistent, in the past few weeks criticism of the Thai Royal Family has crept into the speeches given by pro-democracy activists.

Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong recently warned student protesters against dragging the monarchy into their list of grievances against the government. Speaking with tears in his eyes at a news conference a few weeks ago, Apirat urged students to show respect and refrain from criticising the Royal Family.

“I’d like to ask Thai citizens to set a neutral mind and consider what they see at the protests. I understand that they’re exercising their democratic rights under the regime (his words), but I think those vituperations and inapt language are making many feel uncomfortable.”

Yesterday’s Committee Campaigning for a People’s Constitution demonstration was countered with a ‘spoiler’ rally outside the Thai parliament by 50 members of a movement to protect the monarchy. They also asked anti-government demonstrators, verbally and with banners, to “leave the monarchy alone”.

“The constitution can be amended but the highest institution cannot be touched.”

Mo violence was reported and the two groups later dispersed.

Student protesters also held an anti-government rally to criticise the government at Thammasat University’s Rangsit Campus, and in Chiang Mai over the weekend when around 200 student protesters came to hear pro-democracy activist Anon Nampa speak after being released from custody on bail.

SOURCES: Bangkok Post | The Thaiger | Reuters

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