Thailand's king visits Bangkok palace, in 1st trip out of hospital since being admitted last year

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej left hospital on Monday to visit his Bangkok palace, the first such trip since he was admitted last year, which is likely to comfort many who revere him as the arbiter of decades-long, sometimes violent, political divisions.

King Bhumibol, 87, the world's longest-reigning monarch and considered "father" of the nation, was admitted to Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital in October where he underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder and treatment for an intestinal infection.

The King's absence during an annual public audience to mark his birthday in December heightened anxiety over his health. "We were told that His Majesty would leave Siriraj Hospital and travel to Chitralada Palace and that His Majesty would pay a visit to his projects at Chitralada," Mr Amnuay Kachanan, a police officer outside the palace, told Reuters.

A Reuters reporter at the scene saw the King leave in a royal convoy and return to the hospital after spending around an hour at the palace. Some well-wishers lined the streets calling out "Long live the King" as King Bhumibol, wearing a yellow checked shirt, waved back.

King Bhumibol has in the past intervened during Thailand's often messy political show downs. In 2006, the King called on judges to resolve a pending constitutional crisis.

Months later, populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a September coup by the army. Thaksin, whose populist policies won him legions of supporters in the agrarian north and northeast, is loathed by the elite who accuse him of undermining the monarchy and of corruption, accusations he denies.

Eight years on, Thailand is still divided between his supporters and critics. The latest May coup and persisting divisions, despite attempts by the ruling junta to force national reconciliation, have heightened concerns over the succession and the kingdom's future.

King Bhumibol's son and presumed heir, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, has yet to command his father's level of popular support.

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