Nov 26, 2020 13:08 UTC
  • Thousands protest in Thai capital, urging king to relinquish control of funds

Thousands of anti-government protesters have gathered in the Thai capital of Bangkok, calling on the country’s monarch to relinquish control of royal funds worth tens of billions of dollars, despite an escalated crackdown on protests.

The protesters gathered outside the head office of Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), Thailand’s oldest bank, on Wednesday to call for greater oversight of royal funds.

“At least people should have the space to investigate [how money is spent] and check the institution — not only the monarchy but also other institutions. We will not accept military power anymore,” a protester said.

The demonstrators had originally planned to gather outside the crown property bureau, the office that manages royal assets, but they moved to avoid confrontation with royalists who had announced a counter-rally nearby.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn took direct control of the crown property bureau, which is worth tens of billions of dollars, after ascending the throne.

Previously, the fund — comprising prime real estate, shares in the SCB, and stakes in the country’s largest industrial conglomerate, Siam Cement Group — had been under the supervision of the Finance Ministry. Its exact value is not known, though some estimates suggest it is worth 40 billion dollars.

Protesters have accused the king of wasting taxpayers’ money. They also say the king’s private wealth should be separated from the crown funds.

In a statement released ahead of the Wednesday demonstration, the protest group Free Youth said, “Transferring the crown property to the king’s property is equivalent to a robbery of the nation’s wealth.”

It also criticized the police response to protests, saying that “being near the police does not make you feel safe” in Thailand.

The Wednesday rally was peaceful. However, loud bangs were heard later in the evening, and a volunteer protest guard was reportedly injured.

The development came after police summoned 15 prominent activists on Tuesday to face charges under the lese majeste law, which shields Thailand’s powerful and ultra-rich royal family from criticism.