One-year period of mourning declared in Thailand

2016-10-14 14:19
In this December 2011 photo, Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej is pushed on a wheel-chair while leaving Siriraj hospital to the Grand Palace for a ceremony celebrating his birthday in Bangkok, Thailand. (File, AP)

In this December 2011 photo, Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej is pushed on a wheel-chair while leaving Siriraj hospital to the Grand Palace for a ceremony celebrating his birthday in Bangkok, Thailand. (File, AP)

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Bangkok – Thailand has officially entered a one-year period of mourning, following the death of the country's beloved monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, at the age of 88.

Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, died in a hospital in the capital Bangkok on Thursday. 

He had been in poor health for several years but his death plunged the Southeast Asian nation of 67 million people into grief.

The streets of Bangkok were busy as usual on Friday morning, 12 hours after news of the king's death broke. Most people dressed in black but shops opened for business.

Al Jazeera's Scott Heidler, reporting from outside the Bangkok hospital where the king was pronounced dead, said that "throngs of mourners" had shown up "wearing muted colours, mostly black.

"We are expecting even more people to come here," our correspondent said.

At Bangkok's Grand Palace, thousands of mourners lined up to pour water on a portrait of the king, a ritual that is part of royal funeral rites in Thailand.

The cabinet declared a government holiday for mourning, but the Stock Exchange of Thailand said it and "other financial institutions" would operate as normal.

A constitutional monarch with no formal political role, Bhumibol was widely regarded as Thailand's unifying figure in the nation's fractious political scene.

Since 1932, Thailand has witnessed 19 coups, including 12 successful ones. The latest was in 2014 and installed the current military government led by former army general Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The king stepped in to calm crises on several occasions during his reign and many Thais worry about a future without him.

The military has for decades invoked its duty to defend the monarchy to justify its intervention in politics.

Prayuth, the prime minister in the military government, said on Thursday that the country was in "immeasurable grief... profound sorrow and bereavement".

He said security was his top priority and called for businesses to stay active and stock investors not to dump shares. 

Charity workers, right, hand bottles of drinking water to Thai mourners who wait on the roadside to offer condolences to late Thai King Bumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj hospital in Bangkok. (Kittinun Rodsupan, AP)

“Long live His Majesty the new king”

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is expected to be the new king, but he does not command the same adoration that his father earned over a lifetime on the throne.

Prayuth said Vajiralongkorn wanted to grieve with the people and leave the formal succession until later, when the parliament will invite him to ascend the throne.

"Long live His Majesty the new king," Prayuth said.

Thailand's strict lese-majeste laws have left little room for public discussion about the succession.

The military government has promised an election next year and pushed through a constitution to ensure its oversight of civilian governments. It looks firmly in control for a royal transition.

The government has set up a telephone hotline to help people cope with grief, a spokesperson said.

Most Thais have known no other monarch and King Bhumibol's picture is hung in almost every house, school and office.

Until his later years, he was featured on television almost every evening, often trudging through rain, map in hand and camera around his neck, visiting a rural development project.

Mourners pray while waiting to offer condolences to late Thai King Bumibol Adulydej at Siriraj hospital. (Kittinun Rodsupan, AP)

“I just know that I loved my king”

His wife, Queen Sirikit, 84, has also been in poor health over recent years.

Thais around the world were also in mourning.

"I just know that I loved my king, he is the king that helped everybody, helping the poor, everything," Stella Boonyawan, a member of the Thai community in California, the largest in the world outside of Thailand, told The Associated Press news agency.

"You'll never find a king like our Thai king in the whole world. Our king [was] the best," she said outside the Buddhist Wat Thai Temple in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.

In Bangkok, Prayuth warned against anyone taking advantage of the situation to cause trouble. Politicians from all sides will be in mourning.

Thai stocks and the baht currency are likely to be volatile in the short term and consumers could cut spending, but assuming a smooth transition, major economic disruption was not expected, the Eurasia Group of risk analysts said in a report before the king's death.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand soared 3.7% at the open, paring huge losses built up through the week as news filtered out that the king was gravely ill. The baht climbed more than one percent against the dollar.

Read more on:    king bhumibol adulyadej  |  thailand

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