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Turbulent Thailand

Thailand protesters' letters to king met with water cannons

Rally told to disperse peacefully leaving messages in mailboxes

 With no official engagement, four red mailboxes were rolled out to receive letters addressed to the king.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Riot police have halted over ten thousand pro-democracy protesters using two water cannon blasts as they were on their way to the Offices of the Royal Household to deliver letters addressed to King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The incident, which the police later described as a mistake, occurred at around 6:30 p.m. as protesters moved towards the Grand Palace and the Privy Council Chambers where an earlier protest note to the king was delivered by student leaders on Sept. 19.

At one point, some red buses that were obstructing the route were pulled back to allow the crowd to pass, but obstacles, further along, remained in place.

"This is the closest we can make it to the palace without anyone facilitating us," an organizer announced over a loud hailer.

A prepared statement was meanwhile issued online, and signed "People."

"This kingdom is a land of compromise and love, not of cruel power and brute force," it said. "The three demands from the people are the utmost compromise," it reads.  

Pro-democracy groups on Sunday reiterated three basic demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his cabinet; constitutional changes drafted in consultation with representatives of the people; and reform of the monarchy.

Early on Sunday morning, Arnon Nampa, a human rights lawyer at the forefront of calls to reform the monarchy, posted a long letter of rebuke to the king on social media from Chiang Mai, where he is answering charges relating to his activities.

Shortly after 9 p.m., Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon, widely known as 'Mind,' announced the end of the demonstration, and four red wheelie bin mailboxes were rolled out for protesters to leave their letters.

Organizers described this as a symbolic protest, and there was no sign of any officials being sent to received the messages.

Riot police fire two short water cannon blasts at protesters near the Grand Palace as they were on their way to deliver letters to King Maha Vajrialongkorn's household staff. (Photo by Masayuki Yuda)

The protesters had rallied at about 4 p.m. at Democracy Monument, which is close to Sanam Luang, a large grassy area in front of the Grand Palace that has been the setting for protest rallies in recent weeks.

On Saturday, key pro-democracy groups Free Youth and Free People posted a message to the king on social media: "If your words, 'We love them all the same,' are true, you should accept letters from everyone, not just those in yellow shirts who shout loudly 'Long live the king.' Treat everyone the same."

King Maha Vajiralongkorn has been asked by protest leaders to listen to what all sides have to say in the present political unrest.   © Reuters

The letter campaign follows some rare public comments made by the king on Nov. 1 while he mingled with an estimated 8,000 royalists outside the Grand Palace. "We love them all the same," the king repeated three times as he responded to unexpected doorstep questions from Jonathan Miller, a correspondent for Channel 4 News in the U.K. and U.S.-based CNN. He also described Thailand as a "land of compromise."

Reformers on Thursday urged their supporters to write letters to the king, but as of Saturday evening there was no response from the palace.

They also announced a rally at Bangkok's Democracy Monument at 4 p.m. "Sunday's rally is going to be the biggest march ever," they said.

Royalists have meanwhile called on their supporters to rally at the same place two hours earlier, raising concerns about a possible clash. "Let's gather at Democracy Monument on Nov. 8 to observe whether there's anyone who would insult the monarchy," one social media post reads.

Both sides claim to be peace loving, but Thailand has a long history of political street violence. Police have said they are well-prepared and confident of keeping the situation under control.

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