In a move deemed unusual by political watchers in southeast Asia, Thailand’s Queen Sirikit attended the funeral of one of the protestors who was killed during last week’s political riots.
The queen, along with her daughter Princess Chulabhorn, was greeted by thousands of anti-government demonstrators, who believe her presence at the cremation of 28-year-old university student Angkhana Radappanyawut was a sign of support for their campaign.
Angkhana’s father said: “Her majesty said my daughter was a good woman since she had helped the nation and preserved the monarchy.”
Analyst David Streckfuss, a historian at the University of Wisconsin, said Queen Sirikit’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,” said Streckfuss who lives in Thailand.
Angkhana, and a 39-year-old guard for the protesters, died while more than 400 people were injured in the confrontation last Tuesday in some of the worst street violence in Bangkok in years.
Violence flared when People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters descended on parliament to try to stop lawmakers from meeting, prompting police to fire tear gas on the massing crowd.
The PAD have occupied the prime minister’s offices since late August, claiming that the ruling People Power Party is a puppet of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they accuse of corruption and nepotism.
PAD supporters drape themselves in yellow shirts and scarves – the color associated with the king – and claim to be carrying out their campaign out of loyalty to the monarchy.
“Thailand cannot go on in the future without the monarchy. It’s part of the society,” PAD co-founder and leader Sondhi Limthongkul said in an exclusive AFP interview at the weekend.
Queen Sirikit is wife to Thailand’s King Bhumibol, who is highly revered in his country. Many look to him for moral guidance, and some see him almost as a diety. The king is the longest-serving monarch in the world with 62 years on the throne.