The king of Thailand wants to help ease Bangkok's legendary traffic jams and other inconveniences - and that means a few changes to the treatment of royals on the roads. On Friday, authorities distributed 25,000 handbooks to police and other officials with guidelines for directing royal convoys and new protocol for public appearances by the extended royal family.
The manual overturns several practices that had quietly irritated the public in a country where open criticism of the royal family is illegal, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The revered 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej initiated the plan, saying it was time to change certain outdated protocol. The palace hopes the new rules will end a long-running joke about Bangkok traffic.
"Every time there's a traffic jam, everyone wonders if there's a royal motorcade passing by," palace official Chantanee Thanarak told a police training session held Friday at national police headquarters in Bangkok. "The royal family never meant to bother the public." Until now, the arrival of a royal motorcade has meant police halt traffic in both directions far in advance and for many blocks.
Traffic is also halted on flyovers, for security reasons but also to observe protocol that no head should be higher than a royal's. The measures snarl traffic, require extensive police presence and have been quietly criticized as excessive. From now on, traffic on flyovers will be permitted, as will oncoming traffic on the road opposite a royal motorcade, the manual says.
The period for which traffic is halted will be reduced as will the number of police used for royal road closures. Another new rule: Shopping malls do not have to turn away shoppers if a royal family member shows up. "But be careful not to let people get close to royal family members," the manual says.
The 48-page handbook lays out different security measures to be applied for official or private royal outings. It contains photographs of how to close roads and manage crowds and includes palace phone numbers that authorities can call if questions arise. The manual says the new rules apply to the entire royal family, which would presumably include King Bhumibol himself, although he rarely travels about the capital these days. © GPD AP