Thai king praises supporter & pats him on shoulder in rare exchange, man says he'll frame his shirt

Anti-establishment protesters think the king is making his stance known to them.

Kayla Wong | October 26, 2020, 02:28 PM

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Thailand's King Maha Vajilongkorn, in a rare interaction with civilians, was seen commending a man who held up a portrait of his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, while facing off against pro-democracy protesters.

The man, 49-year-old Thitiwat Tanagaroon, later took to Facebook to post a video of the encounter, which became widely circulated on social media.

"Very brave" man

The king and Queen Suthida were meeting a crowd of supporters who gathered near Dusit Royal Palace on Friday night, Oct. 23.

The queen then spotted Thitiwat and pointed him out to the king, who then patted him on the shoulder a couple of times.

According to Khaosod English, the king told him: "Very well done, very brave, I thank you."

After they moved on to greet the other well-wishers, a jubilant Thitiwat punched his hand in the air and signed "I love you".

On his Facebook post, Thitiwat said he was grateful for the honour of interacting with the king and queen briefly -- it is rare for the Thai monarchy to talk to the people directly.

He told Reuters that he had waited from 2pm till 9pm to see the king, adding that the encounter was the highlight of his life.

He said: "The king tapped his hand on my shoulder very hard when he said thank you... I will put the shirt I wore in a frame."

"The king cares about all people, no matter how rich or poor," he added.

The royalist had previously clashed with anti-establishment protesters in front of Central Pinklao shopping mall on Monday, Oct. 19. He was then led away by the police before the disagreement escalated.

Demonstrators had called for Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, a new constitution to replace the one drafted under military rule and reforms to the monarchy.

King making his stance on the protests known

As the king had yet to publicly comment on the months-long protests -- which escalated a week ago when riot police used more forceful methods to disperse the crowds -- protesters say he had made his position clear to them.

The hashtag #23OctEyesOpened started trending on Twitter as social media users who are critical of the monarchy thought the king was making his opposition to them known.

Protest leader Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree threw shade on the king's words, saying: "Very brave, very brave, very good for such a clear expression."

Another protest leader Piyarat Chongthep added: "The king has not been above political problems but always sits at the heart of the problems."

He was referring to the fact that Thailand is a constitutional monarchy where the king is above politics.

James Buchanan, a lecturer at Bangkok’s Mahidol University International College, said the king's comments were his most substantial intervention in Thailand's political crisis so far.

He said while the king acknowledged the protests, he is also indicating that he would not back down.

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Top image via Khaosod English & Thitiwat Tanagaroon/Facebook