Already under attack from a publisher who is drawing thousands to his rallies, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been advised by the country's revered king to be more open to criticism. King Bhumibol Adulyadej talked at length Sunday in his annual birthday speech about Thaksin's inability to handle criticism, adding that even the king has made mistakes, and it is better to know if one has erred.
"Anyone in a very high-profile position must be able to take criticism lightly," the king said in the speech, which was broadcast on radio and television and lasted more than an hour.
Bhumibol, who turned 78 Monday, rarely speaks about political issues and thus his every word on the subject is regarded as significant. Although a constitutional monarch, the king wields great power through the force of his personality and a lifetime of service on behalf of the country's have-nots.
The saying "The king can do no wrong" is "actually extremely insulting to the king because why can the king do no wrong? That would mean that the king is not human," he said. "The king can do wrong."
He also reminded Thaksin, who is one of Thailand's richest men, to think before speaking and not to act on his emotions, otherwise he would regret it later. He acknowledged making many mistakes before he became king, but seldom afterward because he was cautious. "If I weren't careful, I would probably be dead already. This is the nature of politics or being in the public eye," he said. Thaksin, who has filed massive lawsuits against his critics, should not sue them because it will only cause him further problems, the king added.
The most recent target of Thaksin's ire has been outspoken publisher Sondhi Limthongkul, who has stirred up the biggest political crisis facing the prime minister in his nearly five years in power. At mass rallies, Sondhi has accused Thaksin of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the monarchy.
Sondhi has set up a showdown with Thaksin for Dec. 9, when he has called for a half million people to turn out in Bangkok's main park. Thaksin has responded to Sondhi's attacks with a half dozen lawsuits seeking billions of baht (tens millions of dollars; tens of millions of euros) in damages for defamation. He says it's a matter of defending his good name.
Thaksin has been at odds with the press since taking office in 2001. Critics say his administration has manipulated press coverage, forced the cancellation of TV and radio shows that criticized him, and colluded with political and business allies to take over media companies to eliminate independent news outlets, reports the AP. I.L.
The Ilyushin 20 (Il-20) military electronic reconnaissance aircraft of the Russian Air Force with 14 servicemen on board that went off radar screens off the coast of Syria was shot down by Syrian air defense systems over the Mediterranean Sea