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Thai republic hashtag trends as frustration surges among protesters

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The hashtag #RepublicofThailand trended on Twitter in Thailand on Friday after a decision by parliament to delay possible changes to the constitution infuriated protesters in the Southeast Asian kingdom.

FILE PHOTO: Pro-democracy protesters attend a rally to call for the ouster of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's government and reforms in the monarchy, in Bangkok, Thailand, September 19, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

During more than two months of anti-government protests, some protest leaders have said they seek reforms to reduce the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn but not to make Thailand a republic.

The republican hashtag, in English rather than Thai, had been used in more than 820,000 Tweets and was the top trending hashtag in Thailand, according to Twitter.

The Royal Palace did not comment and has made no response to requests for comment on the protests or the demands for royal reform. Thailand became a constitutional monarchy when absolute monarchy ended in 1932, but the king’s powers have increased since he inherited the throne in 2016.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said he had not seen the hashtag and declined to comment. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha did not comment on the hashtag but told reporters national security was paramount and protesters would be prosecuted if they broke the law.

He said had no problem with amending the constitution but it was up to parliament to decide on the issue.

Activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak said the anger showed the government should address at least some of the protesters’ demands - including a 10-point call for royal reforms.

“When people are desperate for reform, they’re thinking of revolution,” he told Reuters. “More desperation will lead to more aggression.”

Parliament, dominated by supporters of the government, voted on Thursday to delay making a decision on whether it would amend the constitution.

Protesters and opposition parliamentarians accused the legislature of trying to buy time.

Protesters seek changes to a constitution they say was drafted to ensure Prayuth, a former junta leader who took power in 2014, kept his post after an election last year. They also want his departure. Prayuth says the election was fair.

Last weekend, tens of thousands of protesters cheered calls for reform of the monarchy, which the constitution says must be held “in a position of revered worship”.

The king, who spends most of his time in Europe, paid a rare visit to Thailand on Thursday for ceremonies honouring his grandfather, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej.

Warong Dechgitvigrom, who led a march to parliament with hundreds of royalists on Wednesday to oppose constitutional change, said the trending hashtag was proof of collusion with foreigners seeking dominance over Thailand.

“The Thai monarchy is the soul of the nation. If this is weakened, it will create conflicts and make it easy for them to interfere,” he told Reuters.

“Most Thai people don’t want a republic.”

Additional reporting by Orathai Sriring; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Edieing by Robert Birsel