Thai se­cu­rity tight­ened af­ter King’s death

Na­tion in mourn­ing for Bhu­mi­bol

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW MAR­SHALL and PANARAT THEPGUMPANAT

BANGKOK: Bud­dhist monks chanted prayers over the body of Thai King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej at the river­side Grand Palace in Bangkok, ahead of a tra­di­tional royal cre­ma­tion that will need months to pre­pare.

The world’s long­est-reign­ing monarch, wor­shipped as a fa­ther fig­ure dur­ing his 70-year reign, died on Thurs­day in a Bangkok hos­pi­tal where he had been treated for years for ill­nesses af­fect­ing his lungs, kid­neys, brain and blood. He was 88.

A royal con­voy, which in­cluded heir-ap­par­ent Prince Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn, moved slowly through Bangkok’s an­cient quar­ter to the Grand Palace, wind­ing past thou­sands of som­bre Thais dressed in black, many of them hold­ing aloft por­traits of the king.

Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tion, the bod­ies of Thai roy­als are placed in a golden urn. But palace of­fi­cials said that was no longer up­held and the king’s body would be placed in a cof­fin with a sym­bolic royal urn near it.

The king had been in poor health for a num­ber of years but his death still up­set the South­east Asian na­tion of 67 mil­lion peo­ple and plunged it into grief.

The king stepped in to calm crises on sev­eral oc­ca­sions dur­ing his reign and many Thais worry about a fu­ture with­out him. The mil­i­tary, which took power in a 2014 coup, has for decades in­voked its duty to de­fend the monar­chy to jus­tify its in­ter­ven­tion in pol­i­tics.

Mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment leader Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chanocha said on Thurs­day that se­cu­rity was his top pri­or­ity and he or­dered ex­tra troops de­ployed around the coun­try.

The stock mar­ket’s bench­mark in­dex closed on Fri­day 4.6 per­cent higher on hopes of an or­derly suc­ces­sion.

King Bhu­mi­bol was some­times called the world’s rich­est monarch with a net worth of about $40 bil­lion (R570bn). But much of the wealth was held by the Crown Prop­erty Bureau, which un­der the late king leased out great swathes of real es­tate in and around Bangkok, of­ten at be­low mar­ket rates.

The monar­chy is one of Thai­land’s most in­flu­en­tial in­sti­tu­tions. Part of that in­sti­tu­tion is the Privy Coun­cil, which ad­vises the sov­er­eign.

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

Black-and-white footage of the king’s life, in­clud­ing him play­ing jazz on the sax­o­phone, re­placed reg­u­lar trans­mis­sions on tele­vi­sion chan­nels soon af­ter his death was an­nounced.

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.

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

Thai­land has en­dured bomb at­tacks and eco­nomic wor­ries re­cently while ri­valry simmers be­tween the mil­i­tary-led es­tab­lish­ment and pop­ulist po­lit­i­cal forces af­ter a decade of tur­moil, in­clud­ing two coups and deadly protests.

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

Prayuth said Prince 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. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Mourn­ers re­act as a mo­tor­cade car­ry­ing the body of Thai­land’s King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej ar­rives at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thai­land yes­ter­day.

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