Anti-government protesters confronted the Thai king and queen with a three-fingered Hunger Games salute as they toured Bangkok to mark the fourth anniversary of his father’s death on Thursday. 

Queen Suditha, riding in a white limousine alongside King Vajiralongkorn, looked distinctly nervous as the royal couple were confronted by thousands of protesters demanding reforms, as police struggled to hold them back.

Many of the demonstrators could be seen raising three fingers. The gesture is borrowed from the Hunger Games books, where it is used by oppressed citizens as a symbol of defiance against an authoritarian ruling class. 

The symbol was adopted by Thai schoolchildren who picked it up from the film adaptation of the books, released in Thailand in 2014. Use of the salute has since been banned by the military.

Despite the ban, the gesture has become widely-used among Thai protesters who have been on the streets of Bangkok for weeks demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha – a military junta leader – as well as reforms to the country’s constitution and royal family.

King Vajiralongkorn – who spends most of his time living in Germany among a harem of women – and Queen Suditha have found themselves caught up in the protests in one of their rare visits to the country they rule. 

Wednesday’s march was timed to coincide with the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship. 

Thai protesters confronted a motorcade carrying their king and queen with three-fingered salutes in defiance of their rule as the royal couple paid a rare visit to the country they rule this week

Thai protesters confronted a motorcade carrying their king and queen with three-fingered salutes in defiance of their rule as the royal couple paid a rare visit to the country they rule this week

Queen Suditha

Queen Suditha

Queen Suditha looked distinctly nervous (left and right) as she waved to the crowds from the royal limousine, while riding alongside husband King Vajiralongkorn

The limousine was flanked by policemen who ran alongside to keep protesters - who are demanding reform of the royal family - away from the vehicle and the royal couple

The limousine was flanked by policemen who ran alongside to keep protesters – who are demanding reform of the royal family – away from the vehicle and the royal couple

The three-fingered salute has been adopted by Thai protesters from the Hunger Games books where it is used by repressed citizens as a symbol of defiance against an authoritarian regime

The three-fingered salute has been adopted by Thai protesters from the Hunger Games books where it is used by repressed citizens as a symbol of defiance against an authoritarian regime

First used by Thai students and schoolchildren who adopted the symbol from the first Hunger Games film, released in Thailand in 2014, it is now being used by anti-government activists

First used by Thai students and schoolchildren who adopted the symbol from the first Hunger Games film, released in Thailand in 2014, it is now being used by anti-government activists

Crowds of protesters face off with police as they demand the resignation of the country's Prime Minister, a new constitution, and reform of the royal family

Crowds of protesters face off with police as they demand the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister, a new constitution, and reform of the royal family

Dozens of protesters raise three fingers in a symbol of defiance as they march through the streets of Bangkok

Dozens of protesters raise three fingers in a symbol of defiance as they march through the streets of Bangkok

Student Union of Thailand spokesperson Panusaya 'Rung' Sithijirawattanakul speaks from a truck as pro-democracy protesters march towards the Government House during an anti-government rally in Bangkok

Student Union of Thailand spokesperson Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul speaks from a truck as pro-democracy protesters march towards the Government House during an anti-government rally in Bangkok

An activist holding a rose also raises three fingers as she defies a military ban on using the gesture to defy the government

An activist holding a rose also raises three fingers as she defies a military ban on using the gesture to defy the government

King Vajiralongkorn is paying a rare visit to Thailand from Germany - where he spends most of his time living among a harem of wives - to mark the fourth anniversary of his father's death

King Vajiralongkorn is paying a rare visit to Thailand from Germany – where he spends most of his time living among a harem of wives – to mark the fourth anniversary of his father’s death

Some protest leaders have called for the abolition of royal defamation laws – which allow for 15-year jail terms for critics of the monarchy – and a proper accounting of the king’s estimated $60billion fortune.

Protesters gathered at Democracy Square in Bangkok in the early hours, despite a heavy police presence, and then marched towards Government House, chanting: ‘Prime Minister, get out!’

Before leaving Democracy Monument, several small clashes broke out between protesters and their opponents, who traded punches and threw plastic bottles as police tried to keep them apart.

There was speculation that the counter-protesters were organized by the authorities, with videos on social media showing municipal trucks carrying groups to the site.

The protesters negotiated or pushed their way without much resistance past several police roadblocks before reaching their target, the streets outside Government House, after almost four hours. 

Marchers could also be seen trying to overturn several buses that had been parked in the road to block their way, amid a tense standoff with police. 

Protest leaders announced plans to stay there for at least three days. Deputy police spokesman Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen estimated the crowd at 8,000.

Tensions have been simmering for months after a series of pro-democracy rallies which have prompted a backlash from the kingdom’s royalist elite. 

The demonstrators tore up plants which had been laid in a failed attempt to keep crowds away from the statue, which has become a focal point of unrests in recent months.  

Royalists assembled only a few dozen yards away, and the two factions faced off across the street before coming to blows hours before the king’s arrival.  

Police holds back barricades to block pro-democracy protesters from encroaching on the Government House in Bangkok

Police holds back barricades to block pro-democracy protesters from encroaching on the Government House in Bangkok

Anti-government protesters march from Democracy Monument to Government House in Bangkok in one of a series of marches that have been ongoing for weeks

Anti-government protesters march from Democracy Monument to Government House in Bangkok in one of a series of marches that have been ongoing for weeks

Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally at Bangkok's Democracy Monument being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship

Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday for a rally at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument being held on the anniversary of a 1973 popular uprising that led to the ousting of a military dictatorship

Pro-democracy protesters march towards the Government House as they take part in an anti-government rally in Bangkok

Pro-democracy protesters march towards the Government House as they take part in an anti-government rally in Bangkok

Pro-democracy protesters march towards the Government House during an anti-government rally in Bangkok

Pro-democracy protesters march towards the Government House during an anti-government rally in Bangkok

Young demonstrators hold up anti-government signs and raise three fingers in defiance as they march through Bangkok

Young demonstrators hold up anti-government signs and raise three fingers in defiance as they march through Bangkok

Anti-government demonstrators hand out roses to marchers during protests in Bangkok on Wednesday

Anti-government demonstrators hand out roses to marchers during protests in Bangkok on Wednesday

Protesters push a police bus as they try to break through a barricade heading towards the government house during an anti-government rally in Bangkok

Protesters push a police bus as they try to break through a barricade heading towards the government house during an anti-government rally in Bangkok

Police stand guard as pro-democracy protesters march to the Government House

Police stand guard as pro-democracy protesters march to the Government House

‘Down with dictatorship. Long live democracy,’ the marchers chanted as they moved off from Democracy Monument towards the city’s Government House, the prime minister’s office. 

Bangkok police commander Phukphong Phongpetra was surrounded by demonstrators who hurled water and yelled insults when he tried to disperse the crowds earlier. 

On Tuesday, the protesters clashed with police and pelted them with blue paint as officers battled to clear the area ahead of a royal motorcade.      

Tuesday was a public holiday to mark four years since the death of the king’s widely respected father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for seven decades. 

The current king, who is thought to have spent much of the pandemic in an Alpine hotel in Germany, made a rare visit to Thailand for the occasion.  

The protest leaders say they will make way for the king’s motorcade, and police say they are confident they can control the crowds with nearly 15,000 officers. 

‘We are out here to fight, with respect to all the people as well as the monarchy,’ protest leader Anon Nampa told the crowds. ‘We’re out here to call for a reform to the institution to better the country.’ 

Royalist leader Buddha Issara said the protesters could demand democracy, but must not call for reforms of the monarchy, as some have done. 

‘They must not touch on the institution,’ he told reporters. ‘We will not accept any booing or raising three or four fingers during the motorcade as well.’ 

Protesters made a rare direct challenge to the king on Tuesday, chanting at his passing convoy after 21 activists were arrested during scuffles with police. Police said detainees would be charged with public order offences on Wednesday.   

Thousands of protesters have occupied land outside government house and have vowed to remain in place for three weeks

Thousands of protesters have occupied land outside government house and have vowed to remain in place for three weeks

Protesters are now staging a sit-in demonstration outside Government House, while vowing to remain there for days

Protesters are now staging a sit-in demonstration outside Government House, while vowing to remain there for days

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters rally into the evening outside the Government House in Bangkok

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters rally into the evening outside the Government House in Bangkok

Pro-democracy protesters raise a three-finger salute, a sign of resistance, as they gather outside the Government House

Pro-democracy protesters raise a three-finger salute, a sign of resistance, as they gather outside the Government House

Pro-democracy protesters take part in an anti-government rally next to Government House in Bangkok

Pro-democracy protesters take part in an anti-government rally next to Government House in Bangkok

Pro-democracy protesters take part in an anti-government rally next to Government House in Bangkok

Pro-democracy protesters take part in an anti-government rally next to Government House in Bangkok

A protester holds a sign reading 'not even your wives like you' in reference to King Vajiralongkorn, who spends most of his time living among a harem of women in Germany

A protester holds a sign reading ‘not even your wives like you’ in reference to King Vajiralongkorn, who spends most of his time living among a harem of women in Germany

Pro-democracy protesters hold up a banner on the barrier around Government House during an anti-government rally

Pro-democracy protesters hold up a banner on the barrier around Government House during an anti-government rally

Pro-democracy protesters give the three-finger salute as they hold up their mobile phones with lights while gathering outside the Government House in an anti-government rally

Pro-democracy protesters give the three-finger salute as they hold up their mobile phones with lights while gathering outside the Government House in an anti-government rally

‘The Democracy Monument arrests raise serious concerns that the government will impose even harsher repression of people’s fundamental freedoms in Thailand,’ said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

‘Thailand’s international friends should call on the government to stop arresting peaceful protesters, listen to their views, and allow them to freely and safely express their visions for the future.’

Wednesday’s demonstration is intended to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the October 14, 1973 student uprising against a hated military dictatorship during which 77 people were killed. 

The latest protests have become the greatest challenge in years to a ruling establishment dominated by the army and the palace.  

While the royal palace has not responded directly to the protesters’ demands, the establishment is thought to have mobilised the ultra-royalist groups to challenge the pro-democracy protesters. 

Today, Bangkok city trucks offloaded hundreds of royalist supporters, many holding flags and pictures of the king. 

The royalist gathering today was much larger than at previous rallies where they were dwarfed by the tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators.  

‘The establishment in Thailand plays a very dangerous game, mobilising state security forces and ultra-royalist groups to confront with the pro-democracy demonstrators,’ said Prajak Kongkirati, a law professor at Thammasat University. 

The King is described in Thailand’s constitution as ‘enthroned in a position of revered worship’. Thai royalist traditionalists see the monarchy as a sacred institution. 

The defamation law is written in Section 112 of the country’s Penal Code and is widely known as the ‘lese majeste’ law, meaning ‘to do wrong to majesty’ in French.  

The prison term was raised to 15 years after 1976 student protests at Thammasat University were crushed. 

Past convictions have included of a Swiss man jailed for 10 years for defacing pictures of the King, and a French businessman arrested for insulting the monarchy during a Thai Airways flight from London with two Thai royals on board. 

Earlier in the day, royalist and anti-royalist supporters had faced off against one-another on the streets of Bangkok, amid accusations that the government had bussed-in royalist to stir up trouble

Earlier in the day, royalist and anti-royalist supporters had faced off against one-another on the streets of Bangkok, amid accusations that the government had bussed-in royalist to stir up trouble

Supporters of the the monarchy, left, and pro-democracy supporters scuffle at a rally near Democracy Monument in Bangkok

Supporters of the the monarchy, left, and pro-democracy supporters scuffle at a rally near Democracy Monument in Bangkok

Police tries to separate Thai royalists supporters (in yellow) from pro-democracy protesters during an anti-government protest in Bangkok

Police tries to separate Thai royalists supporters (in yellow) from pro-democracy protesters during an anti-government protest in Bangkok

Fighting in the streets: A pro-democracy protester, left, clashes with a supporter of the Thai monarchy, wearing royalist yellow, amid rival demonstrations in Bangkok today before the king is due to appear in a motorcade 

A Thai police officer reacts during clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and royalists, with nearly 15,000 officers deployed to keep order on the 47th anniversary of an infamous student uprising

A Thai police officer reacts during clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and royalists, with nearly 15,000 officers deployed to keep order on the 47th anniversary of an infamous student uprising 

Pro-democracy demonstrators (left) and loyalists of the Thai monarchy (right) face off against each other during today's protest in Bangkok

Pro-democracy demonstrators (left) and loyalists of the Thai monarchy (right) face off against each other during today’s protest in Bangkok 

A Thai police officer falls on the ground after scuffling with protesters during an anti-government rally at the Democracy Monument

A Thai police officer falls on the ground after scuffling with protesters during an anti-government rally at the Democracy Monument

Pro-democracy demonstrators wearing traditional dress give a three-finger salute amid calls for a new constitution and the resignation of the prime minister who led a 2014 coup

Pro-democracy demonstrators wearing traditional dress give a three-finger salute amid calls for a new constitution and the resignation of the prime minister who led a 2014 coup 

source: dailymail.co.uk

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