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Thais gripped by grief after beloved king’s death – Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to take throne

BANGKOK: In this Nov. 18, 2012, file photo released by Thailand’s Bureau of the Royal Household, US President Barack Obama, left, talks with Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital.
BANGKOK: In this Nov. 18, 2012, file photo released by Thailand’s Bureau of the Royal Household, US President Barack Obama, left, talks with Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital.

BANGKOK: Thais wept in grief across the nation yesterday after the palace announced the death of their beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country’s unifying figure and the world’s longest-reigning monarch. He was 88.

Hundreds of people gathered at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital, where Bhumibol had been treated for a variety of ailments for much of the past decade. Many sobbed loudly, clutching each other in anguish and shouting “Long live the king.”

The government announced a 100-day mourning period and a 30-day moratorium on state events. His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is to succeed him on the throne. “There is no word to explain my feeling right now,” Gaewkarn Fuangtong, a humanitarian worker, said in Bangkok’s financial district. “I lost one of the most important people in my life. I feel like I haven’t done enough for him. I should have done more. I will do good, do better for his sake.”

Most Thais had seen no other king in their lifetime and thought of Bhumibol, who reigned for 70 years, as their father and the embodiment of goodness and godliness. Although a constitutional monarch, he wielded enormous political power and served as a unifying figure during Thailand’s numerous political crises. But in recent years, he suffered from a variety of illnesses that affected his kidneys, brain, lungs, heart and blood.

Center of all Thai people
“Since I was young I saw him work really hard, and now it’s hard to explain. I feel numb inside,” said Danaiwut Wiroonpiti 26, a photographer who was crying outside the Grand Palace where the king’s body will be taken in a procession Friday. “He’s the center of all Thai people. It’s like we lost the main pillar of our lives, the person who holds us together. I can’t hold my tears.”

Portraits of Bhumibol displayed in most Thai homes and businesses often depict him in arduous travels to remote villages, where he often went to see the situation of his subjects first hand. But recently, whenever Bhumibol appeared in public, he was in wheelchair, waving feebly at his subjects. Even those rare appearances stopped as he became confined to the hospital.

Through his illness he was notably silent about the political upheaval that has shaken Thailand in recent years. On Sunday, the palace announced his health had become “unstable,” and on Wednesday, Vajiralongkorn rushed back from Germany, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha canceled a trip abroad and royal family members began gathering at Siriraj hospital.

He died a little before 4 p.m. on Thursday, the palace said. His death was announced three hours later in a broadcast carried simultaneously by all TV stations. “Even though the board of doctors has closely monitored and treated him to the best of its abilities, the king’s condition never improved,” the palace said in a statement. It said he passed away peacefully.

“He is now in heaven and may be looking over Thai citizens from there,” Prayuth said in a statement. “He was a king that was loved and adored by all. The reign of the king has ended and his kindness cannot be found anywhere else.”

Bhumibol Adulyadej (pronounced poo-mee-pon ah-dun-yaa-det) became king in 1946. He anchored the Southeast Asian country through violent upheavals at home and communist revolutions next door with a blend of majesty and a common touch.

There is great concern about the succession, since Vajiralongkorn has not earned the same respect as his father. A special meeting of the National Legislative Assembly, Thailand’s parliament, was planned late Thursday.—AP

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