Thailand King, Bhumibol dead at 88

Ebun Francis with agency reports

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s revered king and the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has died after 70 years as head of state, according to the palace.

The 88-year-old king  had been in poor health in recent years and was hardly seen in public.The late king was a stabilising figure in a country bedevilled by political turmoil and multiple coups. The crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who was summoned home from Europe a few days back will be the new monarch, the prime minister has said.

In a televised address to the nation, Prayut Chan-ocha said Thailand would hold a one-year mourning period and that all entertainment functions must be “toned down” for a month.

Describing the king’s death as “the most devastating moment for Thais”, the prime minister said: “He is now in heaven and may be looking over Thai citizens from there.

In a later statement he urged vigilance, saying national security was a top priority.

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“Everyone will need to be alert in every region and throughout the country to ensure safety”, the Reuters agency reported him as saying.

The king’s death comes as Thailand remains under military rule following a coup in 2014.

King Bhumibol was widely respected across Thailand, and thought of by many as semi-divine.

Hundreds of mourners have gathered outside the Bangkok hospital where he died, stricken with grief at the news.

World leaders have been paying tributes to the departed monarch, President Barack Obama called the late king a “tireless champion of his country’s development”.

“I had the honour of calling on his majesty the king during my visit to Thailand in 2012, and recall his grace and warmth, as well as his deep affection and compassion for the Thai people,” he said.

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Ban Ki-Moon, the out going UN Secretary General said in a statement that he hoped Thailand would honour King Bhumibol’s legacy of commitment to respect for human rights and universal values.