Thai protesters problem the king’s navy command

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© Reuters. Rally for Democracy in Bangkok

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By Jiraporn Kuhakan and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai anti-government protesters on Sunday challenged King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s personal control of some army units to denounce the military’s role in politics.

It was the king’s recent overt defiance of protesters who broke taboos by criticizing the monarchy in a country where the constitution and law officially reveres banning insults.

Hundreds of protesters gathered to march to the 11th Infantry Regiment, one of two units moved in 2019 under the command of the king.

“An army should belong to the people, not the king,” Parit “Penguin” Khiva told reporters. “In a democratic system, the king is not responsible for taking command of the military.”

Protesters accuse the monarchy of allowing decades of military rule.

Parit is among several protesters who have already been charged under the laws of Majesty for insulting the monarchy following his speeches at previous rallies.

Protests that began in July initially called for the departure of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and a new constitution, but are now also aimed at curbing the king’s powers.

In the barracks, a vanguard of demonstrators set about removing barbed wire barricades.

The State Department said in a statement that the country upholds the rule of law but must retain the right to freedom of expression.

“Whenever the law is violated, officials take action in strict accordance with the relevant legal process without discrimination,” the ministry said.

Prayuth denied protesters’ demands to stop, along with allegations that he ran last year’s elections to retain the power he first took from an elected government in 2014.

The Royal Palace has not commented since the protests began, but the King has said that despite their actions, the protesters are “loved anyway”.

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