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‘We have to protect the monarchy’: Protesters gear up for parade with Thailand’s anti-coup royalist leader

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As motorcade carrying Thailand’s de facto ruler rolls by, watching the people at a noisy protest stand up to his horse

In rural Thailand, one things seemed clear Thursday as the red-shirted protesters stormed the streets of Bangkok. Many who opposed the blockade of Bangkok’s city center gathered in front of a royalist anti-government rally in Wat Khao Gai, a suburb that authorities haven’t yet inspected.

For the red-shirted demonstrators, they were celebrating what they saw as the recent actions of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The head of the royal family stepped in to back the government’s troubled attempt to pass its most recent bid for a constitutional amendment, dubbed “the amnesty law,” which was pushed in the face of the huge anti-government protests that erupted this week. Many saw the move as a way for the royal family to ease the path to power for Thailand’s current leader, a coup d’état leader who was installed following the government’s ouster by protests in 2014.

Thais who opposed that measure and the blockade, including military leaders in charge of the military-run government, saw the move as a maneuver to start the system back up again by restoring constitutional monarchy to Thailand.

“By supporting the regime, that is treasonous,” said Klapopitew Sommai, a retired soldier from Bangkok, gesturing toward the demonstrators. “We did not understand what we were supposed to do at first but finally, I told myself the army cannot and will not back this government,” he added.

Get the best of the Times’ coverage of Thailand.

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn waves to villagers as he inspects a military parade during the Muang Ea Vom Cultural Festival in Klongsaeng Phueng Provincial in Samut Prakan province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, on Dec. 19, 2017. Follow Times of Thailand on Twitter.

Photo: MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images

“We were furious that the regime blocked Constitutional Council,” one demonstrator told reporters, referring to the body’s reject of the controversial bill Thursday.

Among the crowd, the demonstrators seemed outnumbered by Thai royalty. Fresh from his days marking his 75th birthday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has sent out a flurry of social media posts this week calling for unity and thanking his subjects for their support. The telethon Thursday night was being broadcast live on national television, with the Red Shirt demonstration only four kilometers away on the road.

During a long lunch hour at Wat Khao Gai, hundreds of people stood in front of the royalists’ rally where the monarchy sat below.

When the royal group was passing by, the red-shirted protesters clapped, shouted “long live the king,” and caught an occasional glimpse of the royal motorcade from their vantage point.

Most of those gathering at the rally echoed the view of Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst who was part of the Constitutional Council who finally killed the law that would have amended the country’s constitution to help the current coup leader restore his legitimacy.

“On the other hand, they also stood out to remind us that we need to protect the monarchy,” he said.

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