Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thailand Celebrates 82nd Birthday of Ailing King

Thousands of well wishers waving Thai flags and dressed in pink gathered Saturday to catch a glimpse of Thailand's ailing King Bhumibol Adulyade, who has been hospitalized for more than two months and was to make a rare public appearance to celebrate his 82nd birthday.

The palace has said that Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, is recovering from an inflammation of the lungs and is in no danger, but concerns about his health and the eventual succession have shaken the nation.

The king, who had not appeared in public since Nov. 2, left the Bangkok hospital where he has been staying since Sept. 19 to make his way to the Grand Palace, where he was to appear in front of members of the royal family, government officials and members of Parliament before greeting the crowds outside.

Many Thais donned pink shirts as a tribute to the king, a trend that first started two years ago when astrologers determined that pink was an auspicious color for the king's health.

"I've been doing this every since I was 40 years old," said Thongsuk Saechin, an 86-year-old housewife who traveled from Nakhon Pathom, 55 miles (90 kilometers) northeast of Bangkok to see the king and wish him well.

It was also a chance for weary Thais to put aside political differences and unite behind one cause - something most haven't done since fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup in 2006 for alleged corruption. Since then, a series of sometimes violent protests by pro- and anti-Thaksin forces have rocked the country and raised doubts about its political stability.

Bhumibol, who has been on the throne for 63 years, is a constitutional king with no formal political role. But he is widely revered and regarded as the country's sole unifying figure. His disappearance from the public eye and a lack of details about his health have caused widespread uneasiness about the country's future.

The king's health is a particularly sensitive topic because of concerns that the succession may not go smoothly. The heir apparent, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, does not yet have the stature or moral authority of his father.

Open discussion of the matter is barred by strict lese majeste laws that make criticism of the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Bhumibol's birthday is typically celebrated with several days of fanfare that start with the king presiding over an annual military parade in his honor.

This year's military parade, which was scheduled for Wednesday, was canceled, as was his annual speech to the nation on the eve of his birthday. This is the second consecutive year the ailing king has had to cancel his widely watched televised speech due to health reasons.

Source :The Jakarta Post


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