Quarter of a million people expected to attend cremation ceremony for late Thai King Bhumibol

BANGKOK (AFP) - A quarter of a million people are expected to descend on the Thai capital for an elaborate cremation ceremony planned for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej next month, a junta leader said on Friday (Sept 29).

The kingdom has been prepping for the event since King Bhumibol died at the age of 88 in October, triggering an outpouring of grief in a nation where the charismatic leader commanded a cult-like following.

Royal artists have been working around the clock to erect an enormous funeral pyre outside Bangkok's Grand Palace, complete with towering spires and covered in sculptures of mythical beasts.

Spanning four days from Oct 25-29, the cremation event will be a spectacular and costly affair infused with Buddhist ceremonies, cultural performances and arcane palace rituals that will send King Bhumibol's spirit off to the afterlife.

"We expect around 250,000 people to attend this royal ceremony," deputy junta leader Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters on Friday, adding that replicas of the funeral pyre would be set up around Bangkok to help absorb the crowds.

Some 70,000 security officers will be deployed to keep the peace, he added.

Since the monarch's death, tens of thousands of black-clad mourners have been queuing daily to visit the throne hall where King Bhumibol's body is lying in state.

In total, more than 11 million Thais from around the country have paid their respects before the body over the past year, according to palace figures.

King Bhumibol's successor, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is expected to hold his coronation after the cremation, but no date has been set.

He has yet to attain his father's widespread popularity and has made moves to consolidate control over the palace bureaucracy and reduce government oversight.

Like his father, the new king is shielded from scrutiny by a draconian defamation law that punishes any perceived criticism of the royal family with up to 15 years in jail per offence.

Prosecutions have surged since the ultra-royalist junta grabbed power in 2014.

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