BANGKOK, Thailand -- "We love them all," King Maha Vajiralongkorn
said, expecting tens of thousands of protesters to "compromise" after
they defied imprisonment during the past two months by demanding
limits to his vast wealth and power.

Within hours, dozens of allied pro-democracy street groups began
rejecting the king's remarks and vowed to continue their revolution.

"Down with feudalism! Long live the people!" they chanted during a
news conference November 4, intentionally situated outdoors so the
dramatic spires of the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha
provided a vivid and somewhat defiant backdrop.

"We love them all the same," King Vajiralongkorn told a CNN reporter
three times after being asked on November 1 about the protesters'
unprecedented nationwide demands.

"Thailand is the land of compromise," the monarch said in his first
public response to the pro-democracy movement.

Crowned in May 2019, King Vajiralongkorn did not elaborate.

He was greeting thousands of supporters at the ornate Grand Palace and
temple where King Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida and one of his two
daughters, Princess Sirivannavari, attended a Buddhist ceremony.

After the king spoke, the princess said, "We love Thai people, no
matter what. And this country is peaceful. I love it."

"The king may be keen to improve his image internationally, as the
mass protest movement poses a direct challenge to his rule," CNN

Free Youth, a popular frontline protest group, responded by writing on
their Facebook page:

Thailand does "not constitute LAND OF COMPROMISE, but LAND OF INJUSTICE.

"Monarchy reform, a people’s constitution and the ouster of [Prime
Minister] Prayuth and his companions are the only bloodless way to
democracy with the monarch under the constitution," Free Youth posted.

Protesters, led by university students and school children, want to
"reform" the constitutional monarchy and insist they do not want to
abolish it.

They also demand the immediate resignation of royalist Prime Minister
Prayuth Chan-ocha, dissolution of parliament, a new constitution,
fresh elections, and freedom for dozens of jailed protesters charged
with sedition or other crimes.

"Many people accused me of using power illegally, I don't know where I
have broken the laws," Mr. Prayuth said November 5 in a speech at the
Thailand National Defense College.

"I comply with all the laws," he said, according to the Bangkok Post.

"Being in power is not a fun matter."

On Bangkok's streets, protesters have staged almost daily street
blockades at main intersections for several hours, denouncing the
monarch and government with often insulting and satirical language and

During a relaxed and festive evening protest on October 29, a dance
troupe including LGBTQ activists performed hilarious dances in the
street, mimicking royalists with exaggerated camp.

Dancers kowtowed on Silom Road's hard asphalt, symbolizing royalists'
traditional "kraab" prostration of obedience.

The troupe danced and bumped to loud pulsating "molam" songs with
lyrics rewritten to be politically pointed.

"This is my first time at a protest march," a woman in the crowd said
in an interview.

She proudly photographed her 14-year-old son who held a small
"democracy" banner.

When asked why he was protesting, her son enthusiastically reiterated
the demonstrators' main demands to reform the government and monarchy.

The king, 68, heads Thailand's U.S.-trained armed forces.

He is also protected by a harsh lese-majeste law which can mete out a
15-year prison sentence even for vague, indirect words, Facebook
"likes," or other activity perceived to be against him or the royal

The monarch is also guarded by the constitution which states: "The
King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not
be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation
or action."

Protesters escalated their confrontation with King Vajiralongkorn on
October 26 when they marched to the German Embassy and asked Berlin to
investigate his political and financial activity when he stays in
Germany on extended visits.

They also voiced other demands and accusations which, if reported,
could result in lawsuits against journalists and their publications
under lese-majeste and the Computer Crime Act, which have been used
against foreign and local reporters and other people in the past.

Many students at Bangkok's prestigious Thammasat University declined
to attend their official graduating ceremony on October 31 during
which King Vajiralongkorn personally handed a diploma to each student.

Government-run Thai PBS media estimated only about half of Thammasat's
9,600 graduates attended the royal ceremony which is a decades-long
tradition at several universities.

Instead, several students posed outdoors at the university with
life-sized cardboard cutouts of famous Thais who have criticized the

The students photographed themselves gesturing as if they were
receiving a diploma from the controversial figures.

Prime Minister Prayuth recently indicated he was open to changing the
constitution and other government policies, but ruled out discussing
the throne.

Mr. Prayuth, a former army chief, seized power in a 2014 coup and
helped write a new constitution.

He extended his prime ministry in a 2019 election which allowed him to
orchestrate the appointment of parliament's 250-seat Senate.

Royalists meanwhile have threatened severe punishment against anyone
who continues to criticize the monarchy, sparking fears that violence
could soon erupt between the two groups.

"If you sincerely want someone to reform, would you point a middle
finger in front of him or reprimand him every time you vent your
frustration?" columnist Veera Prateepchaikul wrote on November 2.

Royalists disagree with the protesters' demands including "the
revocation of Section 6 of the constitution granting immunity to the
monarch from criminal or civil litigation," Mr. Veera said.

Another columnist, Wasant Techawongtham, wrote on October 31: "The
situation in Thailand today is reminiscent of what happened in the
U.S. in the 1960s and 70s.

"It was a time of tumult and young people were in revolt," Mr. Wasant said.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent
reporting from Asia since 1978. Excerpts from his new nonfiction book,
"Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam,
Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York" are available at