BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Tuesday dismissed calls from opposition parties to resign at a parliament session he had called to discuss months of protests demanding his departure and reforms to the powerful monarchy.
“I will not run away from problems. I will not leave my duty by resigning at a time when the country has problems,” the former army ruler told the assembly, whose entire upper house was picked by his old junta.
Protests that have brought tens of thousands of people to the streets since mid-July are the biggest challenge in years to an establishment that has long been dominated by military men close to the Royal Palace.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s Palace has made no comment since the start of protests that have smashed a taboo on criticising the monarchy.
Opposition members of parliament told Prayuth to stop hiding behind proclamations of loyalty to the monarchy and step down. His critics say he engineered last year’s elections to keep power he seized in 2014. He says the ballot was fair.
One of the protest leaders, Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseree, dismissed the parliament session as “useless”.
Prayuth said he had agreed to set up committees to study the problems, but referring to the protesters, he said: “I don’t know whom I should talk to as there are no leaders. They are all leaders.”
Some of the highest profile leaders are among dozens of people arrested this month in a crackdown under a week of emergency measures that were called off after they sparked much bigger protests.
Shows of support by royalists have so far been far smaller than those of anti-government protesters.
More than 1,000 gathered in yellow shirts in a central Bangkok park on Tuesday.
“We want to show support and encouragement to his majesty,” said Thatchapan Boriphet, 57. “I am neutral politically but I cannot stand it when there is a violation of the monarchy.”
The prime minister’s office shared an image of the demonstration on Twitter.
Protesters have accused the king of political involvement and marched to the German embassy on Monday to seek an inquiry into whether he exercised his powers during long stays in Germany, something Berlin has said would be unacceptable.
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Nick Macfie)