Thai queen attends funeral for anti-government protester

AFP

Mon Oct 13, 8:45 AM ET

A Thai anti-government demonstrator rests beside a portrait of Thai Queen Sirikit in Bangkok's Government House on October 11. The Queen has attended the funeral of a demonstrator killed in clashes with police. The queen was greeted by ecstatic anti-government protesters who hailed her rare appearance as a sign of support.(AFP/Christophe Archambault) BANGKOK (AFP) – Thai Queen Sirikit attended the funeral Monday of a demonstrator killed in clashes with police, and was greeted by ecstatic anti-government protesters who hailed her rare appearance as a sign of support.

Her daughter Princess Chulabhorn, army chief Anupong Paojinda and senior members of the opposition party also turned out to pay their respects at the high-profile event, which took place as the government’s woes mount.

Protest leaders called off another rally planned for Monday, ensuring thousands of their supporters could attend the cremation of the 28-year-old woman at a temple on the northern outskirts of Bangkok.

The woman, Angkhana Radappanyawut, and a security advisor for the protesters died during the confrontation last Tuesday, the worst street violence in Bangkok for 16 years. More than 400 people were injured.

Violence flared when supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) descended on parliament to try to stop lawmakers from meeting, prompting police to fire tear gas on the massing crowd.

“We are deeply grateful and honoured that the queen presided at the funeral ceremony for a heroine of the people and the PAD, and who protected the monarchy, the country, and the people,” said PAD leader Somkiat Pongpaibul.

“It shows that Her Majesty is concerned and worried about her subjects.”

Sirikit — wife of Thailand‘s deeply-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej — has already offered hundreds of thousands of baht (thousands of dollars) to cover the medical expenses of those injured in the clashes.

“Long live the queen, shouted thousands of PAD supporters at the temple, as Sirikit paid her respects, spending just under one hour at the funeral.

“The queen coming here, it gives us mental support to continue fighting and chase the government away,” 43-year-old businessman Wichiensak Chanchiraphong told AFP.

Somporn Patamangkul, 50, said it was a very rare honour for the queen to attend such a funeral.

“It means that Her Majesty gives such importance to the funeral of this young girl,” he said.

The PAD have occupied the prime minister’s offices since late August, claiming that the elected People Power Party is running Thailand on behalf of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they accuse of corruption and nepotism.

Thailand-based analyst David Streckfuss, a historian at the University of Wisconsin, said the queen’s appearance at the funeral was unusual.

“Although there have been lots of social activists killed in the last decade, to my knowledge none of their funeral ceremonies received any special attention from members of the royal family,” said Streckfuss.

“So it is interesting to note that in this case — a conflict that is controversial and ongoing — that a member of the royalty should apparently show support.”

Also attending the funeral was the leader of the opposition Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva.

A government official, meanwhile, announced that embattled Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat was due to report to the king on the current upheaval.

PAD supporters camped out at Government House drape themselves in yellow shirts and scarves — the colour associated with the king — and claim to be carrying out their campaign out of loyalty to the monarchy.

Bhumibol, 80, has stayed silent since the PAD began their campaign to overthrow the elected government with street protests in May this year.

Over the decades, the king has cultivated an image as a constitutional monarch above political tussles.

He has only twice waded into politics, siding with pro-democracy protesters in the 1970s and again in 1992, both times ordering military dictatorships to end bloody crackdowns.

When tanks rolled on to the streets of Bangkok to overthrow Thaksin in September 2006, the military claimed they were protecting the monarchy.

The king — the world’s longest-serving monarch — was hospitalised last year, causing great concern to a nation that relies on his moral guidance.

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