Thailand at a crossroads following death of King Bhumibol, says Prayut

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha speaks to the media after a cabinet meeting in Bangkok on Oct 18, 2016.
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha speaks to the media after a cabinet meeting in Bangkok on Oct 18, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand is at a crossroads following the death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Friday (Oct 21), urging Thais to stick together and become a "leading country".

King Bhumibol, 88, died on Oct 13 at a Bangkok hospital. Many public events in the country have been cancelled and most people are wearing black after the military-led government declared a year of mourning.

Prem Tinasulanonda, 96, the leader of the powerful Privy Council, has assumed the role of regent until Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn becomes king.

The ruling junta has sought to reassure the country that the king's death will not derail plans for a return to democratic rule, which include a general election in late 2017. General Prayut has stressed that business and government should carry on as normal.

He told officials at a seminar on Friday that Thais face two starkly different paths for their future without King Bhumibol, who ruled for seven decades and was seen as a father figure by many people.

"His majesty has not left us. He is still in the earth, the water, the air," Gen Prayut said.

"Our country is between two paths: one is failure. The second is that we can all help create history in Thailand," he said. "Let us not forget Thailand has had a monarchy for 700 to 800 years. We have managed to survive because of the monarchy. Though the world is changing we must not forget our roots."

Sensitivity over the role of the monarchy in Thailand has risen since the king's death and there have been growing calls on social media for critics of the royal family who live abroad to be brought back to face justice.

 

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The government said on Tuesday (Oct 18) it would ask other countries to extradite people suspected of insulting the monarchy.

Criticism of the king, queen, heir or regent is a crime in Thailand that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison for each offence committed.

Thailand's central bank governor Veerathai Santiprabhob said on Friday that the economy was recovering gradually but that"some businesses, such as entertainment, could be affected" by the year of mourning.

"Foreigners are watching which way we will go," Gen Prayut said on Friday. "We have to prepare to be a leading country."