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Thai King's Body Returns to Palace as Year of Mourning Begins

  • Ron Corben

Thai mourners stand in line to pay their respect to the body of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 15, 2016.

Thai mourners stand in line to pay their respect to the body of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 15, 2016.

Thailand is shrouded in grief, with residents wearing black as they begin a year of official mourning following the death of beloved King Bhumibol Aduladej at age 88. He died Thursday.

Thousands lined Bangkok’s streets Friday in the afternoon heat to pay respects as a procession carried his casket – in a van accompanied by monks – from Siriraj Hospital to the Grand Palace. Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and his sister Maha Chakri Sirindhorn led the cortege across the Chao Phraya River to a temple in the palace complex.

The crown prince, heir to the throne, performed the royal bathing rites blessing for his father. The world's longest-serving monarch, who ascended the throne in 1946, had been in poor health for several years and died from a variety of age-related illnesses.

Buddhist temples across the country have been instructed to perform daily rites for the late king for a month. Local television stations have suspended regular programming, instead broadcasting documentaries of the life and work of King Bhumibol. Several major international television broadcasters also have been blocked.

Thailand's Cabinet called on entertainment outlets to refrain from celebrations for a month. Several provinces are reported to have canceled tourist events.

Across Bangkok, security forces had a stepped-up presence following Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha call for national unity "to maintain peace and order in the country and to not allow anyone to exploit this opportunity to cause any conflicts and chaos during this time of national sorrow."

WATCH: Thais mourn king

Profound impact

Bhumibol, born in the United States in 1927, reigned for 70 years. He endeared himself to Thais by promoting development and supporting thousands of projects and work among rural communities.

Political scientist Titipol Phakdeewan said the grief over the late king’s passing transcended generations.

It’s not just older people who appreciate the monarch’s work, he said. "Today, when I went to the Grand Palace, I met a guy here only 23 years old and he was very emotional over the death of the king."

The king also was known as a painter, competitive sailor, composer and musician, with a penchant for jazz.

American Cheryl Hayes, an accomplished jazz vocalist and music lecturer at Bangkok’s Mahidol University, sang one of his compositions in a 1999 performance for King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit.

"I was so lucky to have such great memories of singing for their majesties," Hayes said, nothing they treated her "with such kindness and warmth." She recalled "the smile on [the king's] face when he heard the song. And for him to tell me how much he appreciated, it was even more memorable."

A mourner holds a portrait of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 14, 2016.

A mourner holds a portrait of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 14, 2016.


World leaders pay tribute

Messages of condolences have poured in from across the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the king's dedication to unifying the country. In a statement, Ban said he hoped Thailand would continue to honor the late leader’s “legacy of commitment to universal values and respect for human rights."

U.S. President Barack Obama said Bhumibol had left "a legacy of care for the Thai people that will be cherished by future generations."

"With a creative spirit and a drive for innovation, he pioneered new technologies that have rightfully received worldwide acclaim," Obama said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry added his condolences to the Thai people, saying their king "will be long remembered and will be deeply missed."

French President Francois Hollande hailed the king for “exceptional human qualities, his profound sense of justice, his care for modernity and sustainable development.”

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he remembered the king as a "highly gifted and gentle person," expressing "deep sorrow" at his death.

Thailand's Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn addresses the audience at the royal plowing ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand, May 9, 2016.

Thailand's Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn addresses the audience at the royal plowing ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand, May 9, 2016.

Heir apparent

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, 63, told the prime minister Thursday that he was seeking time to mourn before ascending to the throne.

The crown prince should have a clear, smooth path to become the next monarch, said Akanat Promphan, a member of the People’s Democratic Reform Foundation (PDRF), which led protests against the former elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra before a military coup in May 2014.

"From the prime minister’s declaration yesterday, it’s quite clear that an heir has been named,” Akanat told VOA.

Expectations of a peaceful transition under a military government helped ease financial market jitters, with the Thai stock market rising more than 64 points after steep falls earlier in the week.

But analysts acknowledge the crown prince, considered a playboy for three marriages and seven children, faces major challenges to garner the respect his father acquired over 70 years.

Vajiralong was educated in Bangkok, London and Australia, and graduated from the Royal Military College Duntroon in the early 1970s.

An officer on the Thai military, he is a qualified military pilot and saw active military operations against the Communist Party of Thailand in the 1970s.

In the past, the crown prince was reported to have had close links with former disgraced Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled Thailand in 2008 in the face of corruption charges.

But over the past two years, the present military government has undertaken several campaigns to promote the crown prince, often highlighting the close relationship he had with his late father.

Aline Barros contributed to this report.

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