Thailand unites in mourning for late king while uncertain future awaits
Tens of thousands line the streets of Bangkok as body of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is taken to the Grand Palace to lie in state
A nation was united in grief last night as a year of mourning began for Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the end of a day that saw tens of thousands of black-clad Thais flood the streets of Bangkok to witness the last journey of the revered monarch’s body to the capital’s Grand Palace.
People had begun lining the procession route not long after the king’s death was announced on Thursday. Many were openly sobbing or wailing, and some holding aloft portraits of the king.
The mass outpouring of grief, which was mirrored throughout the nation of 67 million people, was however tinged with uncertainty as Thailand’s throne remains technically vacant because the world’s longest reigning monarch’s heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, has asked for his accession to be delayed to allow him more time to mourn with the country.
To fill the vacuum, the military government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has appointed as “acting regent” Prem Tinsulanonda, the 96-year-old president of the country’s powerful Privy Council, the body which advises the sovereign.
Tens of thousands of mourners lined the 4km route to watch the procession of vehicles make a slow and reverential journey, carrying the king’s body across Bangkok’s famous Chao Phraya river to the Phiman Rattaya Throne Hall inside the Grand Palace.
Messages of condolence continued to pour in from around the world for the monarch, who died in hospital on Thursday aged 88 after a long illness.
He was worshipped as a national father figure during his 70-year reign. Most Thais have known no other monarch in their lifetimes.
Mourner Nantiya Thaiboonrueng, 52, said: “I feel like it was a good chance for me to see him for the final time. I won’t ever forget this; I feel like all Thais would feel the same way as me. The king was like a father, it feels like my father has passed away. I can’t really explain it. But it is from my heart. Nonetheless, I had to be here to send him off.”
In his own name and that of the Chinese people, President Xi Jinping sent a message of deep condolence to the late king’s wife, Queen Sirikit, in which he praised the monarch as a guide of Thailand’s development and a promoter of friendship between the two nations. Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli also visited Thailand’s embassy in Beijing yesterday to pay his last respects.
US President Barack Obama extended his condolences to Thailand, calling the late king a “close friend” and partner of America. Obama described the monarch as a “tireless champion” for Thailand’s development, praising his “unflagging devotion” to improving the lives of his subjects.
Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor paid her respects, hailing the king’s esteemed position in the hearts and minds of Thais.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is expected to be the new king, but he does not enjoy the same adoration his father earned over a lifetime on the throne.
Prime Minister Prayuth said the country was in immeasurable grief in another televised address last night, after imposing a 30-day ban on festivities. The junta he heads said all TV channels would broadcast documentaries daily on the late king’s work until midnight, and then return to their own programming, which had to be “sensitive to the feelings” of the Thai people.
The body of King Bhumibol will lie at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, inside the Grand Palace complex for people to pay their final respects.
No date has been set for the cremation under Buddhist rites. Chanting and prayers for the king will take place every evening at 7pm, the palace said in a statement, without giving further details.
Tourists heading to Thailand are being urged to “dress appropriately” and to expect disruptions to their normal routines, as deep grief takes over the entire country.
The Thai government is urging foreign tourists to “behave” or not travel at all following the king’s passing. China has told its citizens to be on their best behaviour, and refund offers are being made by travel agencies for people who want to cancel trips.
Last night Bangkok’s famous red light and bar district, Soi Cowboy, was uncharacteristically quiet, with most businesses closed and likely to remain so indefinitely.
German tourist Jurgen Schnell said: “It’s a shame I can’t enjoy myself but you have to respect the people and the nation of Thailand at this time. I am sure I will find somewhere to drink a quiet beer.”