Mas­sive crowds sing royal trib­ute to late Thai king

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Tens of thou­sands of black­clad Thais con­verged on Bangkok’s Grand Palace yes­ter­day to sing the royal an­them in a strik­ing dis­play of de­vo­tion to the re­cently de­ceased King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej. The monarch, who died on Oc­to­ber 13 fol­low­ing years of poor health, was seen as a moral icon and rare fig­ure of unity in a king­dom dogged by cor­rup­tion and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

His death has plunged the na­tion into grief, with the govern­ment declar­ing a one-year mourn­ing pe­riod and urg­ing the pub­lic to don black and dial down all fes­tiv­i­ties for at least 30 days. Crowds have been mass­ing out­side his glit­ter­ing Bangkok palace for the past week, with many jour­ney­ing from far away prov­inces to pay re­spects to a man cel­e­brated as the fa­ther of the na­tion. Some have pitched tents on a large grassy field out­side the royal com­pound, while oth­ers have slept on sim­ple bam­boo mats.

Yes­ter­day, a sea of black filled the pa­rade field and sur­round­ing streets as tens of thou­sands of Thais stood to sing the royal an­them along­side a pro­fes­sional orches­tra and choir. Many held up por­traits or bank notes bear­ing Bhu­mi­bol’s face as they sang, some through tears. “The at­mos­phere is amaz­ing,” said Sethabu­tra Bi­raser­a­nee, who like most was dressed in all black de­spite Bangkok’s swel­ter­ing midday sun. “As you can see, all these peo­ple here came just to pay their re­spects to him, which shows how great he was.”

Un­cer­tain fu­ture

Pub­lic dis­plays of mass de­vo­tion have been en­cour­aged by Thai­land’s arch-roy­al­ist mil­i­tary rulers, who grabbed power in a 2014 coup many be­lieve was staged to en­sure a smooth suc­ces­sion. Bhu­mi­bol served as an an­chor of sta­bil­ity dur­ing his 70-year reign and his pass­ing thrusts the king­dom into an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

Lit­tle is known about what the heir, Crown Prince Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn, will do with a crown that is granted few le­gal pow­ers but be­came a po­si­tion of vast in­flu­ence un­der Bhu­mi­bol’s charis­matic reign. In a move that sur­prised many, the 64-year-old asked to de­lay his procla­ma­tion as king in or­der to grieve with the na­tion, ac­cord­ing to junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who has presided over the tran­si­tion. The regime has not pro­vided a clear time­line for when the prince will for­mally as­cend the throne.

Bhu­mi­bol charmed Thais with his rep­u­ta­tion as a hard-work­ing monarch who es­chewed a lav­ish life­style and ded­i­cated him­self to ru­ral de­vel­op­ment projects, tromp­ing up moun­tains and through jun­gles to meet his sub­jects and lis­ten to their con­cerns. The crown prince, who has been at­tend­ing to Bud­dhist fu­neral rights along with his si­b­lings, is known for a flashier life­style and has spent much of his life over­seas. While the out­pour­ing of grief over Bhu­mi­bol’s death has been over­whelm­ingly sober and dig­ni­fied, it has also un­leashed small pock­ets of ultra-monar­chist forces that have shamed, mobbed and in some cases beaten Thais seen as crit­i­ciz­ing the monar­chy.

The govern­ment has con­demned this vig­i­lan­tism but stepped up its own sur­veil­lance of royal defama­tion-a crime that car­ries 15 years in jail per of­fence un­der the king­dom’s lese ma­jeste law. The leg­is­la­tion has seen scores of Thais thrown be­hind bars-some­times for decades-for per­ceived slights against the monar­chy. All me­dia based in­side the coun­try must heav­ily self­cen­sor to avoid vi­o­lat­ing the law, which has been wielded with re­newed vigor by the junta. —AFP

BANGKOK: Thais mourn­ers sing a spe­cial ver­sion of Thai­land’s royal an­them in honor of King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej in front of Grand Palace. —AP

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