BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s Queen Sirikit attended the funeral on Monday of a protester killed in clashes with police last week, giving explicit royal backing to a five-month street campaign to oust the elected government.
After chants of “Long Live Her Majesty” from thousands of members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the queen told Jinda Radappanyawuthi, father of 28-year-old victim Angkana, that his daughter had died in a noble cause.
“Her Majesty said my daughter was a good woman since she had helped the nation and preserved the monarchy,” Jinda told reporters after a brief audience at the end of the Buddhist cremation. Tears streaked down his face as he spoke.
Angkana died from chest injuries after police fired teargas into a crowd of PAD protesters blockading parliament on Tuesday. Another man died in a car bomb and nearly 500 were hurt in the worst street violence in Bangkok in 16 years.
At least 10 people lost their limbs during the clashes, which a top forensic expert from the Justice Ministry said was caused by teargas that contained explosive materials.
“We have a lot of RDX (explosive) in the Chinese-made teargas,” Porntip Rojanasunan, head of the forensic department, told reporters.
Jinda’s emotional account of his conversation with the queen is likely to damage the government, especially his revelation that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whom many Thais regard as semi-divine, was behind the donation of 1 million baht ($29,150) to treat those injured in the unrest.
Some of the money officially donated last week by the queen went to treat the dozens of injured police officers, although the PAD trumpeted the cash as a gesture of support from the palace, a very powerful moral and social force in Thailand.
Jinda later told the crowd the queen was concerned for the welfare of the protesters who have occupied the prime minister’s official compound since August in a push to oust a government they see as a puppet of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
“She said she would soon send us flowers,” he told the crowd after the funeral, to huge applause.
Several of the king’s advisers also attended the funeral at a Buddhist temple in a quiet Bangkok suburb.
Thailand’s top military brass, who have been criticised by the PAD for not launching a coup to prevent further bloodshed, were also there, but were booed after the ceremony. None of the senior policeman involved a week ago attended.
The high-profile funeral and the queen’s stunning decision to show up forced the PAD to postpone a protest march to police headquarters on Monday, easing immediate fears of a repeat of the violence. The march will take place on Wednesday.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat expressed sorrow for the deaths, and urged the PAD to leave the Government House compound.
However, Somchai, a brother-in-law of Thaksin, said he would not resign or call a snap election, saying neither would resolve the fundamental rift between the largely rural electorate who support Thaksin and the Bangkok-based elite who despise him.
After flying to brief the king at his seaside palace on the current political situation, a grim-looking Somchai said in Bangkok he would not give up.
“The show must go on,” he replied to a reporter who asked whether he would chair a weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The political crisis dates back to late 2005, when the PAD first started its street protests against Thaksin. It has meandered through a military coup to elections and back to street protests, and shows no signs of resolution.