The world’s longest-reigning monarch, respected by the vast majority of Thai people, dies at 88 after prolonged illness.
A royal procession carrying the body of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej travelled on Friday from the Bangkok hospital he died to the Grand Palace, passing tens of thousands of weeping people as the country officially entered a one-year period of mourning.
Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, died in hospital in the capital Bangkok on Thursday at the age of 88.
He had been in poor health for several years but his death plunged the Southeast Asian nation of 67 million people into grief.
The streets of Bangkok were busy as usual on Friday morning, 12 hours after news of the king’s death broke. Most people dressed in black but shops opened for business.
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from outside the Bangkok hospital where the king was pronounced dead, said that “throngs of mourners” had shown up “wearing muted colours, mostly black.
“We are expecting even more people to come here,” our correspondent said.
Later in the day, crowds of mourners lined up pavements along the route of a royal motorcade that would bear the king’s body from the hospital to the nearby palace complex.
Thousands of others, many holding his portrait, waited at the palace compound, mourning the loss of the only king most have ever known and expressing anxiety about the future.
Some gathered outside the hospital fainted in the heat and were carried away on stretchers.
Phongsri Chompoonuch, 77, clutched the late monarch’s portrait as she walked towards the palace.
“No matter how far it is, I can walk,” she told AFP news agency. “We no longer have him. I don’t know whether I can accept that. I fear, because I don’t know what will come next,” she added.
At the palace, the Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was to preside over the bathing of the king’s body, a traditional Buddhist funeral rite.
Months of palace rituals are to follow, including at least 100 days of chanting by monks.
The cabinet declared a government holiday for mourning, but the Stock Exchange of Thailand said it and “other financial institutions” would operate as normal.
The stock market soared 3.7 percent at the open of Friday, paring huge losses built up through the week as news filtered out that the king was gravely ill. The baht climbed more than 1 percent against the dollar.
A constitutional monarch with no formal political role, Bhumibol was widely regarded as Thailand’s unifying figure on the nation’s fractious political scene.
Since 1932, Thailand has witnessed 19 coups, including 12 successful ones. The latest was in 2014 and installed the current military government led by former army general Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The king stepped in to calm crises on several occasions during his reign and many Thais worry about a future without him.
The military has for decades invoked its duty to defend the monarchy to justify its intervention in politics.
Prayuth, the prime minister in the military government, said on Thursday that the country was in “immeasurable grief … profound sorrow and bereavement”.
He said security was his top priority and called for businesses to stay active and stock investors not to dump shares.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is expected to be the new king, but he does not command the same adoration that his father earned over a lifetime on the throne.
Prayuth said Vajiralongkorn wanted to grieve with the people and leave the formal succession until later, when the parliament will invite him to ascend the throne.
“Long live His Majesty the new king,” Prayuth said.
Thailand’s strict lese-majeste laws have left little room for public discussion about the succession.
The military government has promised an election next year and pushed through a constitution to ensure its oversight of civilian governments. It looks firmly in control for a royal transition.
The government has set up a telephone hotline to help people cope with grief, a spokesman said.
King Bhumibol’s picture is hung in almost every house, school and office. Until his later years, he was featured on television almost every evening, often trudging through rain, map in hand and camera around his neck, visiting a rural development project.
His wife, Queen Sirikit, 84, has also been in poor health over recent years.
Thais around the world were also in mourning.
“I just know that I loved my king. He is the king that helped everybody, helping the poor, everything,” Stella Boonyawan, a member of the Thai community in California, the largest in the world outside Thailand, told the Associated Press news agency.
“You’ll never find a king like our Thai king in the whole world. Our king (was) the best,” she said outside the Buddhist Wat Thai Temple in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.
In Bangkok, Prayuth warned against anyone taking advantage of the situation to cause trouble. Politicians from all sides will be in mourning.
Thai stocks and the baht currency are likely to be volatile in the short term and consumers could cut spending, but assuming a smooth transition, major economic disruption was not expected, the Eurasia Group of risk analysts said in a report before the king’s death.