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Home / World / The King of Thailand is facing protests at home, legal issues abroad

The King of Thailand is facing protests at home, legal issues abroad

A descendant of one of the most privileged families in the world, he was enveloped in the attributes of royal property, wealth and a comfortable hiding place thousands of miles from his subjects.

For King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand, the cocoon was removed with extraordinary speed.

Last week in Berlin, the German government faced questions in parliament about the king’s legal status in Bavaria, where he lives. Foreign Minister Heiko Mas said that if the king had made decisions concerning Thailand from German soil, “we would clearly not have stood for it.”


Then, visiting Thailand this week on the fourth anniversary of his father’s death, the king’s family came face to face with Democratic protesters campaigning to limit his power. One day, protesters collided with the queen’s motorcade and threw insults at her cream-colored Rolls-Royce.

In a country where criticism of a king or his family is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, the dramatic scenes in Bangkok provide a vivid illustration of the crisis facing Thailand’s constitutional monarchy and the military-backed government.

“The bubble that protected them from reality is breaking, no doubt, and very graphically,” said Pravit Rojanafruk, a senior employee at Khaosod English news site.

On Friday night in Bangkok, police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators democratic.

Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday night, removing hundreds of protesters by truck.

(Sakchai Lalit / Associated Press)

After clashes with the motorcade on Wednesday, authorities banned large gatherings, arrested more than 20 activists and accused two of violence against the queen, which could lead to life imprisonment. Thousands challenged the ban and gathered at a crossroads in Bangkok on Friday night until police in protective gear dispersed the crowd with sticks and water cannons.

As the months-long protest movement continues, the veneration long demanded of the Thai monarchy is being shattered in large and small ways. Thais refuse to speak for the royal anthem in cinemas, distorting the king in Facebook groups and openly questioning his enormous wealth and expenses.

The inspection he is currently facing in Germany is an additional inconvenience for the 68-year-old king, who has long treated his adopted home as a playground.

As the only son of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned 70 years, Vajiralongkorna was destined to inherit the throne. But since about 2007, he has spent most of his time in Germany, where the tabloid press has been happy to follow his exploits.

In the picturesque southern state of Bavaria, Važiralongkorn, who has been married four times, bought a villa near the pristine Lake Starnberg in Tutzing in 2016. He reportedly spends time there and at a four-star alpine hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which he rents out entirely to his entourage, including what one newspaper called “hundreds” of servants.

Tsuita Tsuitung in Munich reported earlier this year that the king had “gained a strong commitment” to the strong Bavarian foothills.

“He likes to pick strawberries, ride bicycles or visit one of the country inns after his tasters tried everything first, and his guards recognized the premises as appropriate and safe,” the newspaper writes.

As a crown prince, he was known in Bavaria primarily for his eccentric tastes. He was depicted in a tight-fitting crop on top of his bare torso as he boarded a ski lift and covered in temporary tattoos during a tour of Munich’s shopping center.

As he took the throne after his father’s death in 2016, King Vajiralongkorn’s stay in Germany became more controversial.

He amended the constitution of Thailand to allow himself to rule from abroad without appointing a regent, as past monarchs did during long stays outside Thailand. After gaining personal ownership of an estimated $ 70 billion crown, he broke with customs by interfering directly in Thai politics by banning his popular sister from running in the 2019 election, the first since the 2014 military coup.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn is transported to the royal palace during his coronation in 2019

The royal bearers carry King Mach Vajiralongkorn to the palanquins during his coronation in 2019.

(Associated Press)

“His authority is much greater than that of previous monarchs, and he has exercised it very shamelessly since he ascended the throne,” said Junja Imprasert, a Thai activist accused of insulting the monarchy in 2010 and exiled to Finland.

She organized several protests in Germany, including near a hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in September, when she said members of the king’s entourage whipped protesters in a car and took pictures of them.

When they reported the harassment to local police, she said officers told her it was “the king’s usual practice.”

Activists and local media have raised questions about the king’s tax status in Germany, as well as whether the government approved his stay in hotels when the rest of Bavaria was closed to tourism during the COVID-19 blockade in the spring.

Last week in the Bundestag, a member of the opposition Green Party asked Foreign Minister Maas if the king’s government approves of making political decisions about Thailand from Germany.

“Why has the German government been tolerating this extremely unusual and, in my opinion, illegal behavior in Germany by the head of a foreign state for many months?” asked MP Fritjof Schmidt.

Maas replied that he was “aware of many bizarre reports of what was happening there,” but the government’s position was firm.

“We have made it clear that the policy towards Thailand should not be pursued on German soil,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said his government “will not support” Vajiralongkorn, who is deciding on Thailand from his residence in Bavaria.

(Associated Press)

In an interview, Tim Pargent, a member of the Greens in Bavaria, said that the party’s inquiries had established that the king had not been in Germany as a diplomat and was therefore bound by German laws and tax codes.

“If he likes living in Germany, it’s obviously his right,” Pargent said. “But what I want to avoid is this [that] a despot who does not treat his people very well receives any special protection here in Germany. He should be treated like everyone else. ”

In Thailand, where past pro-democracy movements have been suppressed by bloody force, the government has been reluctant to use tactics against mostly student protests. For several months, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said the government would consider calls for changes to the constitution, but warned that the monarchy must be respected.

But many demonstrators believe that Thailand’s political system cannot be reformed without cutting the sails of the monarchy, where its share of the state budget is growing, while economic inequality is deteriorating and the country is facing a sharp slowdown in COVID-19.

Disappointment erupted on Wednesday afternoon when a royal limousine aboard Queen Sutida, the king’s fourth wife and former flight attendant, and his son from a previous marriage, Prince Deepangkorn, turned onto the road near the Government House, the Prime Minister’s Office.

A Pravit journalist said that about 200 protesters who had gathered there did not expect the motorcade to follow this path. A video taken by Chaosod, one of the protest leaders, college student Francis Bunqueanun Paoton, shows him addressing police through a megaphone when a phalanx of black-clad officers suddenly pushed into the crowd, clearing the road.

Then a motorcade appeared. Many demonstrators flashed a three-finger salute, which became a trademark of the protest; others raised their middle fingers, shouted insults, or chanted, “This is my tax,” referring to the royal family’s expenses.

No one approached the car and there was no damage. But on Friday, Bunkueanun stood near a Bangkok police station and said he had been accused of intending to harm the queen, the most serious allegation made by protesters since the demonstrations began.

Faced with the prospect of living in prison, he wiped away his tears, but promised to continue the fight, “even if I have to risk everything.”

Michael Montesano, coordinator of the Thailand Studies Program at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishaq Institute in Singapore, said protesters and the military were on a dangerous escalation path. Prayut told reporters Friday that he would not resign, and issued a warning – “Do not challenge the gloomy reaper” – which some activists interpreted as a threat.

“It’s been a real crisis,” Montezano said. “And mechanisms for resolving the crisis, whether in terms of compromise or dialogue, do not seem to exist.”

Special correspondent Kirschbaum reported from Berlin, and a Times employee from Bengali from Singapore.

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