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Thousands of protesters and royalists face off in Bangkok

Protest movement seeks departure of Thai PM and curbs to King's powers

BANGKOK: Some 10,000 Thai protesters marched to the prime minister's office yesterday demanding he step down, while thousands of royalist supporters also turned out in their biggest showing since anti-government demonstrations began three months ago.

The two camps gathered face-to-face at Bangkok's Democracy Monument, which has become a focal point for the protests. They kept apart barring some brief scuffles.

The protest movement is calling for the departure of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, and a new constitution. It also wants reforms to curb the King's powers, breaking a taboo on criticising the monarchy.

"Have faith in democracy. We cannot fall back," protest leader Parit "Penguin" Chirawat told protesters on the march to Government House.

Leaders of the demonstration said it drew tens of thousands to a march that stretched for more than 1km. Police put the number at about 8,000.

Thousands of yellow-clad supporters of King Maha Vajiralongkorn lined the streets to catch a rare glimpse of him as his motorcade drove through Bangkok. He spends much of his time in Germany.

Municipal trucks brought hundreds of workers to join the crowd.

Most royalists dispersed after the motorcade carrying the King had passed, but some protesters later slowed a convoy carrying Queen Suthida, gave the three-fingered salute and chanted "get out" at police protecting the vehicle. Video on social media showed her smiling through the car window.

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

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.

The detainees were charged with public order offences yesterday. - REUTERS

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