Thai PM asks student protesters 'not to create chaos'

Thai PM asks student protesters 'not to create chaos'

Harry Porter-themed pro-democracy protest in Bangkok
Anon Nampa dressed as a wizard speaks during a Harry Porter-themed protest demanding the resignation of Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok, Thailand, August 3, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

BANGKOK: Thailand's prime minister on Tuesday (Aug 4) asked increasingly bold student-led protesters "not to create chaos" after some broke longstanding taboos by openly calling for reform of the constitutional monarchy.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who staged a coup six years ago and has led military-backed governments ever since, also promised that parliament would consider protesters' demands to amend the constitution.

"I beg people not to create chaos at this time. We are solving these problems together," Prayut told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

Harry Porter-themed pro-democracy protest in Bangkok
A pro-democracy protester dressed as a witch flashes a three-finger salute as she attends a Harry Porter-themed protest demanding the resignation of Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok, Thailand, August 3, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

He said he was "worried" about the young protesters who have been gathering in small groups in different parts of the country calling for the dissolution of parliament and new elections.

Prayut said a committee has been formed in parliament to discuss possible changes to a 2017 constitution drafted under military auspices.

Opposition activists say that under the constitution, Prayut was virtually assured of staying on a prime minister after a disputed 2019 general election by the creation of a military-appointed Senate.

"I support changes that are needed and I am not in conflict," he said.

Harry Potter-themed pro-democracy protest in Bangkok
Harry Potter-themed pro-democracy protest in Bangkok

He did not say what changes would be considered in parliament, where his ruling coalition holds a comfortable majority after a main opposition party was dissolved in February.

A court ban of the opposition Future Forward Party sparked campus demonstrations and student protesters took to the streets last month with some 2,500 rallying at Bangkok's Democracy Monument. Since then, protests have spread.

Prayut has previously warned protesters not to insult the monarchy, which is illegal in Thailand, though he said King Maha Vajiralongkorn had asked that people no longer be prosecuted under that law.

On Monday night, student protesters issued a statement calling for changes in laws "that expand the power of the monarch and that could impinge on democracy where the king is the head of state”.

Officials at the Royal Palace on Tuesday said they had no comment when asked about the protest demands.

The constitution says the king is to be "revered" and insulting the monarchy is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison under "lese majeste" laws.

Harry Potter-themed pro-democracy protest in Bangkok
A pro-democracy protester dressed as a wizard holds up a picture of Lord Voldemort during a Harry Potter-themed protest demanding the resignation of Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug 3, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha)

After the king took the throne in 2016, the palace required revisions to the new constitution that gave him greater emergency powers. He has since taken personal control over some army units and palace assets worth tens of billions of dollars.

Asked about the protesters' openly discussing the king, Prayut said they had a right to express themselves but should follow the law.

"I won’t stop it from happening. This issue is for authorities to follow the law," he said.

"Protests are a right under the law, but they have to respect the law and rules. I am not threatening, but I am worried."

Source: Reuters/aa

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