World

Thai protesters call on King to cede control of royal fortune

They demand that national assets be taken back from the royal family

BANGKOK: Thousands of Thai protesters called on King Maha Vajiralongkorn yesterday to cede control of a royal fortune valued in the tens of billions of dollars, the latest in months of demonstrations focused squarely on the monarchy.

The protesters have broken a longstanding taboo by criticising the King, and police summoned many of the best-known protest leaders on Tuesday on charges of insulting the monarchy, which can mean up to 15 years in prison.

Protesters demonstrated outside the headquarters of the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), Thailand's biggest bank, in which the King's 23 per cent stake worth over US$2.3 billion (S$3 billion) makes him the largest shareholder.

"The people demand back national assets from the King," read one protest banner.

Police put the number of protesters at 8,000.

Mr Parit Chiwarak, among those facing royal insult charges, said: "Millions of families are struggling, so how can we give our taxpayers' money to just one family to spend luxuriously?"

The total value of the royal holdings is not made public, but it is estimated to be worth more than US$30 billion.

Yesterday's protest was moved to the SCB headquarters after police built siege barricades of shipping containers and razor wire around the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the royal assets and where the rally had originally been planned.

"The SCB shares should not belong to the King but the Finance Ministry, so the dividend can be used to develop the country," said Boss, 28, one of the protesters.

The palace has made no comment since the protests began, but when the King was asked about the protesters recently, he said they were loved "all the same".

Police sources said 15 protest leaders faced the charges, which they must acknowledge by the end of the month.

Responding to criticism, government spokesman Rachada Dhnadirek defended the use of the charges. She said: "The government has been open-minded to rights and freedoms despite many imprudent expressions which offend the majority. The government must use its authorised powers."

Since July, protesters have been calling for the removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former junta leader.

They accuse him of engineering last year's election to keep hold of power that he seized in a 2014 coup. He says the ballot was fair. - REUTERS

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