Thailand Marks Somber Birthday of Ailing King

Thailand is marking the birthday of its revered king, amid concerns about his health and the nation's prolonged political crisis.

King Bhumipol, who turned 81 Friday, was scheduled to deliver his annual pre-birthday radio address to the nation Thursday from the royal palace in Bangkok.  But his children, the crown prince and princess, told listeners their father was suffering from a throat problem.  They both insisted his illness was not serious.

Many in Thailand were looking forward to the speech for guidance on resolving the crisis, which has paralyzed the country.  Anti-government protesters ended more than six months of demonstrations that included a takeover of the prime minister's compound and Bangkok's main airports.

Operations at the main Suvarnabhumi International airport returned to normal Friday, two days after protesters ended an eight-day siege.  More than than a quarter-million tourists were stranded during the siege.  

The People's Alliance for Democracy ended their protests after the Constitutional Court disqualified Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from holding the post and banned leaders of the country's top three parties.  The court found them guilty of voter fraud.

The protesters are strong supporters of the monarchy, while Thailand's rural poor are aligned with ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup.

PAD considers Mr. Thaksin corrupt and authoritarian.  It accused Mr. Somchai of acting as a proxy for the former prime minister.  

Mr. Somchai's People Power Party and two coalition partners were dissolved by the court's order.  But members of the banned groups remain a dominant force in parliament. They are reorganizing in new parties and say they plan to form a new ruling coalition.

Protest leaders have warned they will resume demonstrations if the new government is allied with Mr. Thaksin.

Deputy Prime Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul is serving as caretaker prime minister.  A parliamentary session scheduled to choose a new prime minister early next week has been cancelled.  

The new leader will be Thailand's third prime minister this year. 


Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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