Saturday 25 March 2017

Thailand on edge after beloved king dies, aged 88

Well-wishers pray next to a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj hospital, where a group has gathered in Bangkok. REUTERS
Well-wishers pray next to a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj hospital, where a group has gathered in Bangkok. REUTERS

Neil Connor

The head of Thailand's military junta called for vigilance yesterday following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-serving monarch.

His chosen successor asked for a delay before he is proclaimed king, a move likely to add to concerns.

Bhumibol was named king on the day his brother died in 1946
Bhumibol was named king on the day his brother died in 1946

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn reportedly told prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that he needed time to "mourn, together with the people of Thailand".

"When the appropriate time comes, the crown prince said he is already aware of his duty," Mr Prayuth said. "I hope everyone will understand and not cause chaos." The prime minster told the Thai people in a televised address that they "will need to be alert . . . to ensure safety".

Bhumibol was named king on the day his brother died in 1946. His own death at 88 years old, after 70 years on the throne, prompted deep mourning, but has also cast a shadow over Thailand's political future. He passed away peacefully just before 4pm yesterday local time at Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital, the palace said.

The Crown Prince does not command the same deep affection in the country and many would like one of the king's siblings to take the throne. Mr Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time abroad and has shown little interest in politics. The thrice-married playboy is known for his erratic behaviour, notably giving his pet poodle Foo Foo the title air chief marshal.

Thailand's military seized control in 2014 and many believe they acted to ensure the generals were in charge when a succession took place.

The government strictly enforces Thailand's lese majeste laws, which prohibit discussion of the king's health and succession plans. Prosecutions have risen dramatically since the military seized power.

Dr Liam McCarthy -Cotter, an expert on south-east Asia at Nottingham Trent ­University, said: "There are many who are nervous of this [succession] and will be ­pushing for an alternative."

King Bhumibol's health had been ailing for the past two years, during which he has rarely been seen in public. But he had been seriously ill in hospital for about a week. Hundreds had been praying on the streets, holding his picture and wearing pink and yellow, colours associated with the monarch.

Revered

Many started to cry when his death was announced. The king was revered by much of the population, and seen as a figure of stability during decades of coups and political turmoil. The prime minister said Thailand had begun a year of mourning and entertainment must be "toned down" for a month.

His death makes Britain's Queen Elizabeth the world's longest-reigning monarch.

President Barack Obama said the king was a close friend of the United States and a valued partner of many US presidents.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was among the many world leaders to offer their condolences and tributes.

During a reign that spanned 70 years, the US-born Bhumibol became much more than Thailand's constitutional monarch. He was the nation's one constant as myriad governments rose and fell.

A gentle leader, he used the influence of the throne to unify the nation and rally troops through the Cold War as Thailand's neighbours fell under communist control.

In his heyday, the frail-looking, soft-spoken man in spectacles wielded so much power and respect, he was able to squelch coups and rebellions with a gesture or a few well-chosen words. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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