Millions expected to line streets in Bangkok to see body of King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Mourners waiting outside Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok on Oct 14, 2016.
Mourners waiting outside Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok on Oct 14, 2016.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
People hold portraits of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they sing a national anthem at the Siriraj hospital in Bangkok, on Oct 14, 2016.
People hold portraits of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they sing a national anthem at the Siriraj hospital in Bangkok, on Oct 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Commuters dressed in black and white to mourn the passing of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, wait for buses in Bangkok, on Oct 14, 2016.
Commuters dressed in black and white to mourn the passing of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, wait for buses in Bangkok, on Oct 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
People hold portraits of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital in Bangkok, on Oct 14, 2016.
People hold portraits of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital in Bangkok, on Oct 14, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
People shop for pictures of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej along Dinso Road in Bangkok.
People shop for pictures of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej along Dinso Road in Bangkok.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
People shop for pictures of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej along Dinso Road in Bangkok.
People shop for pictures of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej along Dinso Road in Bangkok.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

BANGKOK (AFP) - Millions of Thais donned black on Friday (Oct 14) as the grieving nation prepared to hold traditional Buddhist ceremonies for revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose death leaves the country facing an uncertain new era.

King Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, passed away at 88 on Thursday after a long battle with ill health, removing a stabilising father figure in a country where political tensions are still raw two years after a military coup.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, is the king's named successor, but has made a surprise request to delay formally becoming the next king, according to junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha who appealed for citizens to accept the decision and "not cause chaos".

Officials prepared to move the monarch's body on Friday from the hospital where he died to the Grand Palace, a complex of glittering temples and pavilions in the heart of the capital.

Large crowds are expected to pour onto the streets for the procession from Siriraj Hospital where the king spent much of the last two years battling an array of ailments.

A statement from the palace said the Crown Prince would preside over a ceremony to bathe the king's body - a traditional Buddhist funeral rite. His remains will then lie in state for weeks and months of palace rituals.

Many Thais on Friday opted to dress in black and white, both mourning colours in Thailand, as they went about their business.

 

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"I am very sad, I was born under this king," Ms Arunee Sahathongthai, 49, told AFP as she bought a pair of black trousers at a market in Bangkok, saying that Thais were "united in grief".

Some said they were nervous about a future without King Bhumibol.

"I really loved him," Arnon Sangwiman, a 54-year-old electricity company employee, told AFP. "Now I am afraid of what may happen, about the administration of the country, the type of regime in the long term."

Thais had expected the Crown Prince to be officially proclaimed king immediately after his father's death was announced.

But Mr Prayut announced late on Thursday that the prince had sought a delay to mourn his father's loss and better prepare for his new role.

The move could fuel concerns over the succession and test the ruling junta, which has vowed to ensure stability after more than a decade of political turbulence.

Most Thais have known no other monarch than King Bhumibol and he was portrayed as a guiding light through decades of political turmoil and coups.

The Crown Prince spends much of his time overseas and is yet to attain his father's widespread popularity at home.

Analysts said the nation's elites likely want to stage a slow and careful transition.

Any criticism, republican sentiment, or speculation on succession is smothered by a harsh lese majeste law in Thailand.

The junta seized power in 2014 after a decade of strife between Thailand's two major political factions, exacerbated by the king's declining health as jostling elites competed for power.

The military has deep links with the palace and many inside the kingdom saw the putsch as a move to ensure generals could squelch any instability during a succession.

During King Bhumibol's reign, Thailand transformed from an impoverished, rural nation into one of the region's most successful economies, avoiding the civil wars and communist takeovers of its neighbours.

He sometimes intervened to quell Thailand's frequent political violence but at other times stayed silent, approving most of the army's many coups during his reign.