Bangkok, Oct 31 (efe-epa).- Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn took part in a graduation ceremony at a university in Bangkok on Saturday amid strong security measures due to ongoing pro-democracy, anti-government protests and rising tension in the country.
The king, a target of protesters making unprecedented calls for reforms to the monarchy to reduce its power, wealth and political influence, attended a graduation ceremony at Thammasat University – where many students are sympathetic to the pro-democracy movement – which was attended by more than 3,000 people on Friday and Saturday.
Some students sympathetic to the protests called for a boycott of the event and participated in a protest rally, also at Thammasat, with cardboard cutouts of exiled anti-monarchist dissidents.
The country has been gripped by tension this month over the youth-led mass demonstrations and the arrests of several of its leaders, most of whom are university students.
One of them, activist Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, is in hospital after losing consciousness on Friday while being arrested by the police.
The latest wave of protests began in July with a demand for the resignation of prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha, a former general who led the 2014 coup d’état and who was elected head of government after last year’s elections, which were criticized for a lack of transparency.
The demonstrators are also demanding a new Constitution – the current one was written by the former military junta (2014-2019) – and to reduce the long-standing influence of the army, which has taken power in 13 coups since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.
The protesters’ most audacious and controversial demand is the reform of the monarchy to reduce its power, a taboo subject until recently.
Thailand has one of the strictest lèse-majesté laws in the world, which provides sentences of up to 15 years in prison for anyone who criticizes the crown.
Vajiralongkorn, who spends most of his time in Germany, arrived in Thailand in early October with the queen and the royal concubine to participate in religious ceremonies and to mark the anniversary of the death of his father, the revered Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on October 13, 2016.
The protests, ongoing since July, intensified considerably after his arrival this month. EFE-EPA