Thou­sands throng street for Thai king fu­neral pro­ces­sion

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Thou­sands of Thai mourn­ers have lined the streets of Bangkok, as the body of King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej was moved from a hos­pi­tal to the royal palace.

The world’s long­est-reign­ing monarch died on Thurs­day aged 88 af­ter years of ill health, spark­ing a na­tional out­pour­ing of grief.

The gov­ern­ment has de­clared a year-long of­fi­cial mourn­ing pe­riod.

Crown Prince Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn has been named as suc­ces­sor, but has asked for a de­lay in the process.

The cab­i­net de­clared yes­ter­day a gov­ern­ment hol­i­day, and flags are to fly at half-mast for the next 30 days.

Peo­ple have been asked to wear black, and avoid “joy­ful events” dur­ing this pe­riod. Cin­ema screen­ings, con­certs and sports events have been can­celled or post­poned.

News web­sites have turned their pages black and white, and all tele­vi­sion chan­nels in Thai­land are air­ing pro­grammes about the king’s life.

“This is the worst loss in my life,” said one of those lin­ing the streets.

“I am con­fi­dent that what he did for us im­proved our lives,” said another.

“What we are do­ing now [wait­ing on the streets], is noth­ing com­pared to what he did for us.”

The king’s body is be­ing moved from Siri­raj Hos­pi­tal to the Tem­ple of the Emer­ald Bud­dha in the Grand Palace.

Later in the evening, the Crown Prince will con­duct the bathing cer­e­mony of the king’s body, a tra­di­tional Thai Bud­dhist fu­neral rite.

The king 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.

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

He earned the de­vo­tion of Thais for his ef­forts to help the ru­ral poor, such as agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment projects, and works of char­ity.

The monarch was also seen as a sta­bil­is­ing fig­ure in a coun­try of­ten wracked by po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

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.

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.

While the Thai Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha has said the crown prince will ascend the throne next, there is un­cer­tainty over when that will hap­pen af­ter the prince asked for a de­lay in suc­ces­sion.

Privy Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Prem Tin­su­lanonda, a 96-year-old for­mer prime min­is­ter, has been named act­ing re­gent in line with the con­sti­tu­tion.

He re­mains as re­gent un­til the Thai assem­bly in­vites the heir to suc­ceed to the throne, the Bangkok Post re­ported.

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.

Great White Pel­i­cans eats fish in the Mish­mar HaSharon reser­voir, Is­rael on Thurs­day. Thou­sands of Pel­i­cans stop in the reser­voir for food pro­vided by the Is­raeli na­ture re­serves author­ity as they make their way to Africa Pho­to­graph: AP

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