Thai king set to leave hospital after four years
King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit will head for their palace in Hua Hin as Bangkok braces for anti-government protests at the weekend
Thailand's 85-year-old king is set to leave the hospital where he has lived since being admitted for lung inflammation four years ago and return to his seaside palace, officials said yesterday.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit were scheduled to travel today to Klai Kangwon Palace in the town of Hua Hin, where they were living before the world's longest-reigning monarch was taken to hospital in September 2009.
The monarch, who is seen as a unifying figure in the country, is leaving hospital as Bangkok braces itself for possible unrest, with thousands of anti-government protesters expected to descend on the capital this weekend.
The Royal Household Bureau said the king and queen would leave Siriraj Hospital and travel by car to the seaside royal residence, according to Prachuap Khiri Khan provincial governor Veera Sriwattanatrakul.
Veera said the palace did not say whether the move would be permanent.
The seaside town of Hua Hin is about a 2 1/2 -hour drive south of Bangkok.
"We have checked the road conditions, cleaned up the streets and put up the national and the royal flags along the way to the palace," he said. "The province will also prepare 11 parking spots for well-wishers who want to greet Their Majesties."
Veera said about 10,000 people were expected to welcome the king and queen in Hua Hin.
Bhumibol actively worked for decades on behalf of Thailand's poor, but has almost disappeared from public life since he was admitted to hospital for what the palace called a lung inflammation.
Since then, he has had a variety of ailments and has lived in a royal wing of Siriraj Hospital, leaving only on rare occasions and always in a wheelchair.
The 80-year-old queen was admitted to the same hospital in July last year when she experienced dizziness and staggered slightly while walking for exercise.
The news came as the Thai government invoked a special security law to control the planned protests in central Bangkok, after a series of violent rallies rocked the capital in recent years.
The Thai People's Army - a newly-formed coalition of ultra-royalist groups who despise the Puea Thai ruling party and its exiled figurehead Thaksin Shinawatra - has vowed to protest in Bangkok on Sunday, possibly for several days.
It is targeting a government-backed bill, due to be introduced in parliament on Wednesday and proposing an amnesty for those involved in several bouts of political violence that have convulsed the nation since a 2006 coup toppled Thaksin.
The amnesty bill would scrap charges against protesters involved in incidents from the September 2006 coup until May 2012 - barring the leaders.
Opponents fear it will be manipulated by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government to grant her brother Thaksin an amnesty, paving the way for his return by waiving his two-year jail sentence on corruption charges.
To head off possible unrest, the cabinet has invoked the Internal Security Act for 10 days in three inner districts of the capital, a senior government official said.
"We estimate that there will be a large number of protesters from the camps both 'for' and 'against' the bill... so to prevent them from confrontation we have to invoke the special security law ," Paradorn Pattanatabut, secretary-general of the National Security Council, said.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse