Thai junta chief to meet prince as king health fears grow Leader’s health ‘not sta­ble’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Thai­land’s junta chief said yes­ter­day he planned to hold talks with the Crown Prince fol­low­ing days of un­prece­dented con­cern over the health of ail­ing King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej.

Bhu­mi­bol, 88, is the world’s long­est-reign­ing monarch and beloved by many in Thai­land. But he has not been seen in pub­lic for nearly a year as he bat­tles a se­ries of ail­ments in a Bangkok hospi­tal. An un­usu­ally pes­simistic palace state­ment on Sun­day de­scribed the king’s health as “not sta­ble” with doc­tors rec­om­mend­ing he sus­pend all royal du­ties.

That sparked market jit­ters in­side Thai­land this week as well as pub­lic pray­ers for his well-be­ing. Crown Prince Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn, who spends much time out­side the coun­try, is his named suc­ces­sor. “The Crown Prince is re­turn­ing (to Thai­land) and I will wait for him to grant me au­di­ence so I can brief him on the govern­ment’s work,” Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a for­mer army chief who seized power in 2014, told AFP via text mes­sage.

Thai me­dia trav­el­ling with Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-O-Cha in the east­ern prov­ince of Chon­buri said the junta chief had abruptly can­celled all of­fi­cial en­gage­ments Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon and re­turned to the cap­i­tal.

No rea­son was given, ac­cord­ing to me­dia which re­ported the can­cel­la­tion, in­clud­ing the ma­jor dailies Mati­chon and Thai Rath. Se­cu­rity out­side the hospi­tal where Bhu­mi­bol is be­ing treated was in­creased yes­ter­day with a hospi­tal of­fi­cial say­ing they ex­pected the Crown Prince to visit his fa­ther. “The se­cu­rity has been stepped up be­cause the Crown Prince is com­ing to the hospi­tal,” a spokes­woman at Siri­raj hospi­tal said, ask­ing not to be named.

Bhu­mi­bol’s health is a taboo sub­ject and palace of­fi­cials main­tain tight con­trol on news about his con­di­tion. A dra­co­nian lese ma­jeste law also makes pub­lic dis­cus­sion of the suc­ces­sion all but im­pos­si­ble.

Sun­day’s state­ment was no­tice­ably grim in its prog­no­sis. Pre­vi­ous state­ments have tended to end on a pos­i­tive note af­ter suc­cess­ful treat­ment. The king has bat­tled a range of ail­ments in the last two years in­clud­ing reg­u­lar in­fec­tions, breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, re­nal fail­ure and hy­dro­cephalus-a build-up of cere­brospinal fluid com­monly re­ferred to as “water on the brain”.

The lat­est an­nounce­ment caused Thai­land’s stock market to dip and the baht to fall against the dol­lar this week. The main bourse plunged af­ter the lunch break on Wed­nes­day, drop­ping as much as 6.8 per­cent. By mid af­ter­noon it had re­cov­ered some­what to 3.45 per­cent down. On Mon­day it de­clined 3.15 per­cent and on Tues­day it fell 1.02 per­cent.

The Thai baht was headed to­wards its steep­est weekly drop in three years, trad­ing at 35.90 on Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg data. Pri­vately many business lead­ers-both do­mes­tic and for­eign-fret that his demise could lead to eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity, es­pe­cially as there is no of­fi­cial dis­cus­sion on how the coun­try will han­dle his pass­ing.

Most Thais have known no other monarch and Bhu­mi­bol is widely seen as a uni­fy­ing sym­bol in a coun­try rocked by decades of po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence and di­vi­sions. The heir, 64, has yet to at­tain his fa­ther’s wide­spread pop­u­lar­ity.

Since Sun­day’s an­nounce­ment, many Thais have started wear­ing pink in the be­lief it will bring the king good luck. A crowd of fol­low­ers gath­ered out­side the hospi­tal to pray. “It feels like he is get­ting worse this time,” said Som­chit Nar­avi­chit, 58, tears welling in her eyes. “Mil­lions of Thais are send­ing him sup­ports, pray­ing for him and want­ing him to get well soon,” she told AFP.

Suwanna Kaen­num­tiang, a 62year-old woman hold­ing a por­trait of the king, added: “The king is very im­por­tant to us be­cause he has done ev­ery­thing for the peo­ple. He is like my an­gel. I pray to his photo on my bed­side ev­ery day.” —AFP

BANGKOK: A Thai woman holds a por­trait of Thai King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej as she pray for his health at Siri­raj Hospi­tal, where the king is be­ing treated, in Bangkok on Oc­to­ber 12, 2016.—AFP

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