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Thailand eases royal motorcade rules to unblock traffic

January 13, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this June 12, 2006, file photo, Bangkok traffic police officer holds back traffic as a royal motorcade passes by in Bangkok Monday, June 12, 2006. Thailand's king has directed police to reduce the blockage of traffic during royal motorcades. (AP Photo/David Longstreath, FIle)
FILE - In this June 12, 2006, file photo, Bangkok traffic police officer holds back traffic as a royal motorcade passes by in Bangkok Monday, June 12, 2006. Thailand's king has directed police to reduce the blockage of traffic during royal motorcades. (AP Photo/David Longstreath, FIle)

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s king has directed police to reduce the closure of roads during royal motorcades.

The commander of the Traffic Police Division said Monday that the new rules issued by King Maha Vajiralongkorn to ease traffic congestion have been tested in the capital, Bangkok, since October.

Police Maj. Gen. Komsak Sumangkaset said the rules will be applied throughout the country. They will apply only to personal trips by members of the royal family, not to those involving official duties.

“It is the initiative of his majesty the king to help alleviate traffic congestion. And we have tested it for months and now we have come up with measures that traffic police nationwide must follow,” he said.

The new rules follow criticism on social media in recent months of large traffic jams created when roads were closed to allow royal motorcades to pass through. The Thai-language hashtag for “royal motorcade” topped Thailand’s trending list on Twitter several times. The large number of comments, some strongly worded, was unusual because the royal family is protected by a lese majeste law that allows critical remarks to be treated as defamatory and punished by up to 15 years in prison.

The new guidelines were explained in a video released Sunday by the police.

They include allowing traffic to continue to move on the opposite side of the road from a motorcade and permitting motorists to use bridges and ramps that pass over motorcade routes. Currently, traffic is halted on flyovers for security reasons and because of protocol that no one should look down on members of the royal family.

The guidelines also advise police to show courtesy when explaining the reason for stopping traffic, rather than using intimidation or force.

A similar effort to deal with the longstanding issue of traffic jams caused by royal motorcades was initiated in 2012, when 25,000 copies of a 48-page handbook were distributed to police and other officials. It also said that traffic on flyovers would be permitted, as would traffic on the opposite side of roads being used for motorcades.