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Thai protesters challenge monarchy, present letter detailing demands

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Thousands march to hand over letter calling for reforms to curb king's powers

BANGKOK: Openly challenging the monarchy of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, thousands of protesters marched in Bangkok yesterday to present demands that include a call for reforms to curb his powers.

Protesters have grown ever bolder during two months of demonstrations against Thailand's palace and military-dominated establishment, breaking a longstanding taboo on criticising the monarchy - which is illegal under lese majeste laws.

The king, who spends much of his time in Europe, is not in Thailand now.

The marchers were blocked by hundreds of unarmed police manning crowd control barriers. Protest leaders declared victory after handing the police a letter detailing their demands.

Mr Phakphong Phongphetra, head of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said on a video broadcast from the scene that the letter would be handed to police headquarters to decide how to proceed.

"Our greatest victory in the two days is showing that ordinary people like us can send a letter to royals," Mr Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak, told the crowd before it dispersed.

At the biggest demonstration in years, tens of thousands of protesters on Saturday cheered calls for reform of the monarchy as well as for the removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former junta leader, and elections under a new constitution.

Shortly after sunrise yesterday, protesters cemented a plaque near the Grand Palace in Bangkok in the area known as Sanam Luang, or Royal Field.

It reads, "At this place the people have expressed their will: That this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch as they have deceived us."

The plaque will be regarded "as an immediate challenge", said analyst Paul Chambers, warning that the growing acrimony could lead to state violence against protesters.

The authorities would need to determine whether the plaque is illegal and if it is, it would need to be removed, Bangkok's deputy police chief Piya Tawichai told reporters.

Not all Thais support the new plaque, which resembles one that had commemorated the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and which was removed from outside a royal palace in 2017, after the current king took the throne.

Prominent right-wing politician Warong Dechgitvigrom said the actions of the protesters were inappropriate and the king was above politics.

"It didn't achieve anything," he said. "These actions are symbolically against the king, but the king is not an opponent."

Thai authorities have said criticising the monarchy is unacceptable in a country where the king is constitutionally "enthroned in a position of revered worship".

The ultra-wealthy king sits at the apex of Thai power, bolstered by a powerful military and conservative establishment.

The monarch spends long periods in Europe, his absence from Thailand raising ire on social media in recent months as the kingdom's economy tumbled with pandemic closures. - REUTERS, AFP