Updated Oct. 18, 2016 9:16 a.m. ET
BANGKOK—Thailand’s junta chief, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, urged Thais to stop berating people who weren’t wearing black to mourn the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as vigilante attacks over alleged derogatory comments about the monarch were reported in parts of the country.
The aftermath of the revered 88-year-old monarch’s death on Oct. 13 has been largely calm, but there have been incidents in which groups tracked down and confronted people who have made derogatory comments about the king on social media. Other people have been photographed and criticized for not wearing black or white, the customary mourning colors.
Gen. Prayuth, who seized power in a coup two years ago and is overseeing the sensitive royal succession, said after a cabinet meeting Tuesday that people shouldn’t assume that those not wearing black didn’t revere the king. “Enough,” Gen. Prayuth said. “It’s not right to chase people who don’t wear black. Don’t make this a problem.”
Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya appeared to undermine the junta chief, however. Speaking to reporters, he offered support for vigilante attacks, describing them as “social justice.”
“Nothing could be better than social measures,” Mr. Paiboon said. He also said that Thailand would seek the assistance of foreign governments to extradite people suspected of insulting the nation’s monarchy, a crime known as lèse-majesté, which in Thailand carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
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While there is little prospect of foreign countries extraditing suspects to stand trial in Thailand under the lèse-majesté law, Mr. Paiboon’s remarks highlighted the depth of feeling that has been unleashed since King Bhumibol’s death. Hundreds of thousands of people have paid their respects at the Grand Palace in Bangkok’s old quarter, while many department stores have run out of black clothing. The government has advised people to wear black or white or a variety of gray tones for a year to mourn the loss of King Bhumibol, who reigned for 70 years and who will be succeeded by his son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.
In some instances people have begun dying their clothes black either because they can’t afford new ones or they can’t find suitable ones in stores or markets.
The widespread grief in some cases has turned violent.
In one incident, a video uploaded to the internet showed a man in Chonburi province, east of Bangkok, being jostled by a mob and kicked in the head for allegedly posting insulting remarks online. He was then forced to prostrate himself before a picture of King Bhumibol and apologize while bystanders cursed and threatened to kill him.
On Friday, several hundred people swarmed around a house in Phuket where a man was also accused of posting disrespectful comments about the king; police and military officers intervened to disperse the crowd.
The following day, another group of people gathered around a food shop in Phang-Nga, in southern Thailand, where they planned to confront the owner’s son for allegedly posting disrespectful remarks about King Bhumibol. The shop owner said his son wasn’t there and promised to present him to make a formal apology. Police said they would investigate whether there were grounds to prosecute the son.
Prince Vajiralongkorn, meanwhile, will likely be proclaimed king soon. The prince was initially due to take on the role a few hours after his father’s death, but asked for some time to grieve with the Thai people.
Gen. Prayuth said Tuesday that after a week or two, the time might come for Prince Vajiralongkorn to become king, with a formal coronation to follow later, after his father’s cremation around a year from now. The throne is currently occupied by a regent, former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda.
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