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Turbulent Thailand

Thailand protesters refuse to compromise after king speaks

Leaders say reform of the monarchy will remain a key demand in future rallies

Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa told reporters that protests would continue after his release from 20 days in detention on Nov. 2.     © AP

BANGKOK -- King Maha Vajiralongkorn's rare message to his people on Sunday night hinting at possible compromise was heard widely, but pro-democracy leaders say they will continue their protests and maintain their key demands -- including reform of the monarchy.

"It is our consensus that there's no change and no compromise," Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree told Nikkei Asia on Tuesday.

"I expect to see certain actions instead of just talking," Tattep said after viewing the king's response to a foreign correspondent's doorstepping question on Sunday. "We love them all the same," the king repeated three times, adding: "Thailand is the land of compromise."

"I don't see any chance of compromise or talks," protest leader Passaravalee Thanakijvibulphol, or 'Mind,' told Nikkei.

It was Mind who led thousands of protesters to the German Embassy on Oct. 26 to deliver a letter demanding the German government investigate whether the king conducts Thai state affairs on German soil.

Mind said that if the government wants talks, the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha -- another key student demand -- would be a good start. The students' third key demand is revision of the constitution with public consultation.

"When we have a fair constitution, that would be a good time to start compromising, and that would include reforming the monarchy," said Mind.

Arnon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, was finally released from Bangkok Remand Prison at midnight on Tuesday after being detained for more than 20 days. He told media that thousands will continue to protest, but declined to give details.

 King Maha Vajiralongkorn has been unusually visible during his current visit to Thailand from Germany, the longest since his accession to the throne in 2016.    © Reuters

"We love them all the same," the king repeated as he mingled with an estimated 8,000 royalists outside the Grand Palace. He was answering Jonathan Miller, correspondent for Channel 4 News in the U.K. and U.S.-based CNN.

"Your majesty, sir, these people love you, but what do you say to the protesters?" Miller asked. He had been in position over seven hours to obtain the first direct press contact with the king since his accession in 2016.

"I have no comment," the king initially responded during the unexpected 37-second encounter. "Is there any room for compromise, sir?" Miller asked. "Thailand is the land of compromise," the king said, before moving away uncomfortably as Queen Suthida shouted back: "We also love you."

King Maha Vajiralongkorn normally resides in Germany, but has been making frequent public appearances during his longest stay in Thailand since acceding to the throne in 2016. On one occasion, he stepped away from his motorcade for a short walkabout among royalists who had been waiting for hours.

After the briefest of interviews, the king sent Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya, his second daughter, back to elaborate with Miller. "We love Thai people, no matter what, and this country is peaceful," she told him.

"We rarely see the king talking to the public," Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammatirat University told Nikkei. "His words on Sunday implied that there are always peaceful solutions in this country."

The general public's reaction to the king's words has been mixed, and some are positive.

"I was overwhelmed with happiness when I met the king," said Bin Banluerit, a 58-year-old actor and fierce royalist. "This is the most treasured moment in my life having the chance of an audience with the king,"

"The king has been trying to speak to the people, but we are not sure if his message will reach everyone, particularly the younger generation intent on reforming the monarchy," Boonyakiat Karavekphan, a political scientist at Ramkamhaeng University, told Nikkei.

On Oct. 16, state television showed the king addressing royalists at Sakon Nakhon Rajabhat University in northeastern Thailand. "I think now you understand that the nation needs people who love the nation and the institution," the king said in reference to the monarchy.

"All the experiences you've had and all the work you've done can be beneficial for the country," the king said. "You can teach the new generation about the experiences you've had. It will be extremely useful."

"The king did not say anything negative," Jade Donavanik, a political scientist with the College of Asian Scholars, told Nikkei. "However, it might not be an effective speech in the eyes of protesters, and they may continue to protest anyway."

On Oct. 23, the king appeared outside the Grand Palace after a ceremony to commemorate his great grandfather, King Chulalongkorn. He mingled there with hundreds of royalists, even allowing some to take unprecedented selfies and videos with him.

Last week, the king presided over a two-day graduation ceremony at Thammasat University, the epicenter of recent student rebelliousness. A surprise planned by protesters to disrupt the occasion did not materialize.

"We will not stop fighting until we get what we want," said Arnon after his release from jail on Nov. 2. "There will be another big protest event soon."

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