Thai king says still loves protesters, Thailand is land of compromise

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn said “we love them all the same” of protesters who seek to curb his powers and he called Thailand “the land of compromise” on Sunday in his first direct public comments on months of demonstrations.

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One protest leader said it sounded like “just words.”

The king responded to questions from Channel 4 News during a walkabout with thousands of yellow-shirted royalists, putting on their biggest show of support since the start of protests that also seek the removal of the government.

When asked what he would say to the protesters, the king said “We love them all the same.” Asked if there was room for compromise, he said “Thailand is the land of compromise”.

One protest leader, Jutatip Sirikhan, 21, told Reuters “I feel like they are just words. The word compromise is the opposite of what has actually happened ... like harassment and the use of force and the use of the law.”

The Palace has made no official comment on protests that began by seeking the departure of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha before breaking a longstanding taboo by calling for curbs on the king’s powers.

Protesters want to reverse changes that gave him personal control of some army units and a palace fortune valued in the tens of billions of dollars.

They criticise the king’s long stays in Germany as wasteful and accuse the monarchy of enabling decades of army domination by accepting coups such as the one in which Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha took power in 2014.

The biggest protests have drawn tens of thousands of people. There was no official estimate for Sunday’s crowd. Reuters journalists estimated the number at more than 10,000.

Royalist leader Warong Dechgitvigrom, who has been trying to rally people to counter the protesters, said the king had told him to “help get the truth out”.

Prayuth’s government banned protests last month and arrested many of the best known leaders, but the emergency measures were cancelled after they backfired by drawing many more people onto Bangkok streets.

Three high-profile protest leaders were hospitalised over the weekend after police said they were being re-arrested at the expiry of the limit to their detention. One of them passed out in police custody in scenes that angered protesters.

Prayuth has said he will not resign and rejects accusations that elections last year were engineered for his benefit.

Additional reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Toby Chopra and Daniel Wallis