Thais mourn death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej

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The people of Thailand are mourning the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, who died on Thursday aged 88.

An emotional crowd held a late-night vigil in Bangkok, and black-clad crowds are now returning to the streets.

The king’s body will be taken to the city’s Emerald Temple later on Friday. The official mourning will last a year.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is to be the new monarch, but has asked for a delay before taking over the role.

Flags are to fly at half-mast for 30 days and the government has asked for people to wear black, and avoid “joyful events” during this period.

News websites have turned their pages black and white, while tributes have been paid by leaders around the world.

One person going to work in Bangkok told the Associated Press: “There is no word to explain my feeling right now.”

“I lost one of the most important people in my life. I feel like I haven’t done enough for him. I should have done more,” said Gaewkarn Fuangtong.

King Bhumibol was seen as a stabilising figure in a country hit by cycles of political turmoil and coups.

He was widely respected across Thailand, and thought of by many as semi-divine.

He had been ill for a long time. When news of his death was announced on Thursday evening, many in the large crowds outside the hospital where he died broke down.

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Bangkok says the king was Thailand’s father figure, a beacon of stability in a divided and worried country. A more uncertain era has begun, he adds.

The king’s death comes as Thailand remains under military rule following a coup in 2014.

The country has suffered from political violence and upheaval over the past decade, as well as a long-running Muslim separatist insurgency in the southern provinces which sees regular small-scale bomb attacks.

Though a constitutional monarch with limited official powers, many Thais looked to King Bhumibol to intervene in times of high tension. He was seen as a unifying and calming influence through numerous coups and 20 constitutions.

However, his critics argued he had endorsed military takeovers and at times had failed to speak out against human rights abuses.

Heir’s challenge

Although the prime minister said Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn would become the new monarch, he added that the official proclamation would be made at a later date.

He said the crown prince had confirmed that he would perform his duty as heir to the throne, but had asked for time to mourn his father’s death.

The crown prince, who is 64, is much less well known to Thais and has not attained his father’s widespread popularity. He spends much of his time overseas, especially in Germany.

Strict lese-majeste laws protect the most senior members of Thailand’s royal family from insult or threat. Public discussion of the succession can be punishable by lengthy jail terms.

Given the pivotal role the king has played in maintaining the balance of power in Thailand’s volatile political environment, the succession will be a formidable challenge for the government, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

 

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