The world's longest-reigning monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88, died yesterday after a long spate of illnesses, plunging his nation into mourning. Thais who had massed at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, in the hope of seeing their revered King recover, broke down in tears on the announcement, with some even fainting.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared a year of mourning, and said the people should refrain from entertainment for 30 days.
"Please help each other to keep public order," he said in a televised address. "Do not let anybody use the opportunity to create conflict that might lead to disturbance."
The National Legislative Assembly observed nine minutes of silence last night in a specially convened session to mourn the King's passing. It did not invite the heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, to ascend the throne.
General Prayut said the Crown Prince had asked for time to mourn with the Thai people.
"Let us wait for the right time," Gen Prayut told reporters.
Analysts do not expect the transition to trigger unrest, although current military rule is unlikely to ease long-term tensions in the politically polarised society. Thailand is slated to hold elections at the end of next year, some three years after a military coup toppled the civilian government at the time.
Condolences poured in from all over the world.
The Singapore Government said King Bhumibol was "an outstanding and deeply revered monarch" who "worked tirelessly" for the betterment of his people, and also made "great contributions for the enduring friendship between Thailand and Singapore".
United States President Barack Obama said he "was a tireless champion of his country's development".
King Bhumibol, whose name means "Strength of the Land", was seen as a father figure in the country of 68 million. Formally known as Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty, he was the last king to wield real power in a region where old, once- powerful monarchies - in Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam - had long disappeared.
While absolute monarchy in Thailand was abolished in 1932, the institution remained a potent symbol and King Bhumibol, who was plunged into the role at age 18, rebuilt the reputation and moral authority of the monarchy to probably its peak.
The wide respect and reverence for him was largely due to state- sponsored ceremony and ritual, and the harsh lese majeste law that stifles critical debate on the royal family's role - an increasingly divisive issue over the past decade.
His popularity came from his travels throughout the country, especially in his younger days as King, speaking to people from all walks of life and starting projects to help the poor and marginalised.
King Bhumibol's passing is a watershed for a country racked over the past decade by political turmoil pitting royalist elites allied with the military against the network of populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
King Bhumibol had been the only real constant through Thailand's political ups and downs. His picture hangs in almost every Thai household and establishment like that of a family patriarch. "I lost a father," 43-year-old trader Nopasat Mungthandao told The Straits Times.
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