The people of Thailand mourn as beloved king dies after 70-year reign


Thai people were in tears across the nation after the death of their beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country's unifying figure and the world's longest-reigning monarch.

It means the country has begun its first day in 70 years without a king as the crown prince asked for more time before ascending the throne following the death of his father.

(AP/Press Association Images)

The government declared a public holiday, while people across the nation dressed in black and many were still breaking down in a spontaneous outburst of emotion that reflected the deep love and respect Bhumibol commanded in Thailand.

The 88-year-old king had spent much of the last decade in hospital with a variety of ailments and the news of his death, announced in a palace statement on Thursday, had long been both anticipated and feared. But the nation remained stable and life continued largely as usual with most shops, banks and tourist sites open.

A one-year mourning period for the government has been declared together with a 30-day moratorium on state and official events.

(Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

The government has urged people to refrain from organising entertainment events for a month, apparently mindful of the need to ensure that the sputtering economy does not suffer. Tourism is one of Thailand's biggest revenue earners, and entertainment remains an integral part of it.

In Bangkok, residents began lining the streets where the king's body was expected to pass on Friday afternoon in a royal procession from Siriraj Hospital to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, which is located on the grounds of the ornate Grand Palace.

"It is a great loss for Thai people," said Siwanart Phra-Anan, on office worker in the financial district. "His Majesty will be in Thai people's hearts forever."

(Sakchai Lalit/AP)

"I'm lost for words because, since I was born, I had him as a father of the nation and he unified us," said another, Siwanee Varikornsakul. "I've never been in this situation before. I don't know what to say. My heart is numb."

Television channels were running non-stop footage devoted to the life of the king, who was deeply revered and held up as a unifying figure in the politically fractious country despite two coups in the last decade alone.

Most Thais have seen no other king in their lifetime and thought of Bhumibol, who reigned for 70 years, as their father and the embodiment of goodness and godliness.

Bhumibol Adulyadej became king in 1946. He anchored the South East Asian country through violent upheavals at home and communist revolutions next door with a blend of majesty and a common touch.

He was so revered that his portraits were displayed in virtually every Thai home and business, generally depicting him in arduous travels to remote villages, where he often went to see the situation of his subjects first hand.

But recently, whenever he appeared in public, he was in a wheelchair, waving feebly at his subjects. Even those rare appearances stopped as he became confined to hospital.

He died peacefully a little before 4pm on Thursday, the palace said.

"He is now in heaven and may be looking over Thai citizens from there," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a statement. "He was a king that was loved and adored by all. The reign of the king has ended and his kindness cannot be found anywhere else."

Messages of condolence poured in from across the world on social media.