Thai King hands out diplomas at protest movement stronghold

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s King presided over a university graduation ceremony on Friday at a stronghold of a protest movement seeking to reduce the monarchy’s powers, after activists issued a call for students to boycott the event.

There was no way to confirm how many heeded the call, though videos of the ceremony showed that many students did attend.

The King or another senior member of the royal family traditionally hands out diplomas at university graduations, as was the case at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, where many of the protesters are active.

The student-led movement wants Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to step down, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic, and reforms to make the monarchy’s activities more transparent and accountable. It has been holding almost daily rallies around the country, some attracting upwards of 10,000 people.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn arrived at Thammasat late Friday afternoon amid no visible protests. There were no immediate reports of any disruption to the ceremony, which takes several hours.

Posters and props supporting the protest movement were visible at rehearsals of the ceremony.

More than 9,000 students graduated at Thammasat on Friday and yesterday. Student activist groups had called for students to skip the formal ceremony, which involves each person walking up to the King, paying respects, and receiving the degree from his hands. All participants had to take tests for the coronavirus, and social distancing was observed.

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn arrives to participate in a graduation ceremony at Thammasat University in Bangkok. PHOTO: AP