The passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has died after 70 years as head of state, the palace says. The 88-year-old king was widely revered but had been in poor health in recent years, making few public appearances. He was seen as a stabilising figure in a country hit by cycles of political turmoil and multiple coups.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will be the new monarch, the prime minister has said.

In a televised address to the nation, Prayut Chan-ocha said Thailand would hold a one-year mourning period and that all entertainment functions must be “toned down” for a month. “He is now in heaven and may be looking over Thai citizens from there,” he said of King Bhumibol.

king-bhumibol-adulyadej

King Bhumibol Adulyadej 1927-2016

The palace had warned on Sunday that the king’s health was “not stable”. King Bhumibol was widely respected across Thailand, and thought of by many as semi-divine. Hundreds of mourners have gathered outside the Bangkok hospital where he died, many stricken with grief at the news.

“His Majesty has passed away at Siriraj Hospital peacefully,” the palace statement said, adding he had died at 15:52 (08:52 GMT).

Parliament is to hold a special session at 21:00 local time (14:00 GMT).

The king’s death comes as Thailand remains under military rule following a coup in 2014. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who is 63, is much less well known to Thais and has not attained his father’s widespread popularity. He spends much of his time overseas, especially in Germany.

Strict lese-majeste laws mean public discussion of the succession are punishable by lengthy jail terms.

Unifying monarch

Given the pivotal role the king has played in maintaining the balance of power in Thailand’s volatile political environment, the succession will be a formidable challenge for the government, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

King Bhumibol, who was born in Cambridge in the US state of Massachusetts, acceded to the throne on 9 June 1946 after his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, died.

Though a constitutional monarch with limited powers, many Thais looked to King Bhumibol to him to intervene in times of high tension. He was seen as a unifying and calming influence through numerous coups and 20 constitutions. However, his critics argued he had endorsed military takeovers and at times had failed to speak out against human rights abuses. Following the death of King Bhumibol, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has become the world longest-reigning monarch, having been on the throne for 64 years.

News update courtesy of BBC News Services.
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