Thai protesters march on German embassy to press for action over king

John Reed in Bangkok

Several thousand Thais marched on the German embassy in Bangkok on Monday to press Berlin to start an investigation into King Maha Vajiralongkorn on the grounds that he had conducted state affairs from German soil.

A crowd of anti-government protesters carrying signs, some in German and many making satirical reference to the Thai king’s spending habits, marched to the German compound and presented the embassy with an open letter.

“We request the German government to conduct an investigation and disclose King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s entry and departure records, in order to determine whether His Majesty has exercised the sovereignty on German soil,” said the letter, signed “Fellow Thai Citizens”.

The protesters also circulated an online petition, endorsed by more than 210,000 people despite being blocked in Thailand, that claimed the king had violated Germany’s law and constitution.

Before the demonstration began the embassy released a statement saying that it recognised the right of Thai citizens to assemble peacefully, including near its building.

The billionaire king’s residence abroad has moved to the forefront of a youth movement against the Thai establishment which has gained momentum since July.

Police guard the German embassy in central Bangkok, on Monday © Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

The king’s sojourn in Germany has also become a diplomatic problem for Berlin. This month, in response to a parliamentary question from opposition Greens, foreign minister Heiko Maas said the king should not conduct affairs of state while in Germany.

On Monday, Mr Maas said the king’s activities in Germany were under “continuous” scrutiny.

“I am also keeping an eye on the activities of the Thai king in Germany,” he told a press conference. “If there are things there that we consider illegal, then there will be immediate consequences.”

The foreign ministry later declined to specify what such consequences might be.

The Thai king has spent most of the past year in Germany, only returning to Thailand for short visits. However, most Thai media avoid mentioning the fact that he lives abroad because of self-censorship or to avoid violating the kingdom’s draconian lèse majesté law. 

According to Bavarian MPs from the opposition Green party who probed the king’s tax status this year, the king was living a villa in Tutzing near Munich at the time of his late father Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death in 2016.

Recently German press have reported that he and members of his household were living in a hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps. 

On Monday, Thai protesters demanded “clarification on this matter”, and asked how much the king would be required to pay if he owed German inheritance tax.

The anti-government movement is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the writing of a new constitution, and limits on the powers of the monarchy, the last of which is a demand rarely heard in the kingdom until this year. 

In an extraordinary session of parliament on Monday, Mr Prayuth said the government supported amending the constitution. 

After remaining publicly silent about the protests, the king last week praised Thitiwat Tanagaroon, a royalist who held up a portrait of his late father King Bhumibol and his mother Queen Sirikit at an anti-government rally, saying: “Very brave, Very good, thank you” in filmed remarks shared widely online.

The comments angered anti-government Thais who believed they showed the king, who officially sits above politics, as having taken sides. One sign held by a protester quoted the king’s remarks in German: “Sehr mutig, sehr gut, danke!” 

Additional reporting by Ryn Jirenuwat in Bangkok and Erika Solomon in Berlin

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