Thai king urges unity in speech to mark his 85th birthday
Nation celebrates 85th birthday of the world's longest reigning monarch
Thailand's revered king called for unity and stability in the divided nation as huge crowds of adoring, flag-waving citizens packed Bangkok for a rare speech to mark his 85th birthday.
At least 200,000 people flooded the capital's historic district yesterday as supporters of King Bhumibol Adulyadej dressed up in the colour associated with his reign.
The king, seen as almost a demigod by many in the politically-turbulent nation, told the crowd that the goodwill Thais had shown by attending the ceremony together "gives me the confidence that your kindness is key to bringing unity to the people and the nation".
"If Thai people are virtuous, there is hope that no matter what situation the country finds itself in, it will be safe and retain its stability," said the monarch in his short address from the balcony at the Anantasamakom Throne Hall in front of the Royal Plaza.
Chants of "long live the king" followed the royal motorcade as it made its way to and from a hospital where the king has lived for three years since suffering a respiratory illness in 2009.
His 66 years of service makes him the world's longest reigning monarch. He suffered a minor brain bleed in July but has since made several official appearances, including meeting US President Barack Obama when Obama visited the country last month.
The monarch has no official political role but is seen as a unifying figure in a country that is frequently riven by political unrest.
His birthday is marked by country-wide celebrations, a public holiday and Thai Father's Day.
The king's near-disappearance from the public scene has raised concerns about what will happen after his death. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn does not command the same respect and affection as the king, who was closely and actively involved in his country's development efforts.
Any discussion of the royal family is extremely sensitive in the kingdom, where the palace has been silent over the organisation of an eventual succession.
Thailand is in the grip of a long-running political crisis pitting royalists against supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the current government led by his sister Yingluck.
An anti-government protest last month - attended by members of the influential monarchist "yellow shirts" - was centred at the Royal Plaza and saw clashes between police and protesters.
Yingluck was among dignitaries at yesterday's ceremony, as well as most key members of the royal family with the exception of Queen Sirikit.
Doctors treating the 80-year-old queen, who was diagnosed with a slight loss of blood flow to the brain after falling ill in July, said she was still too weak to attend the event.
Additional reporting by Associated Press