Thai King Bhumibol, world's longest-reigning monarch, dies

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej during the unveiling ceremony for the King Rama VIII monument in Bangkok on June 9, 2012.
PHOTO: Reuters

BANGKOK - Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch, has died at the age of 88, the palace announced Thursday, leaving a divided nation bereft of a rare figure of unity.

Bhumibol's death ends a remarkable seven-decade reign and plunges Thailand into a deeply uncertain future.

Most Thais have known no other monarch and he has been portrayed as a guiding light through decades of political turmoil, coups and violent unrest.

Read also: Thai King Bhumibol was seen as a force of unity

"At 15:52 (0852 GMT, 4.52pm Singapore time) he died at Siriraj Hospital peacefully," the Royal Household Bureau said in a statement.

"Although the team of doctors treated him to the best of their ability, his condition deteriorated," it said as large crowds erupted in mourning outside the hospital where the monarch spent most of the last two years.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the former army chief who leads Thailand's ruling junta, said that the king's 64-year-old son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is his named successor.

The Crown Prince is much less well known to Thais and has yet to attain his father's widespread popularity. He spends much of his time overseas, especially in Germany, and is a keen pilot who flies his own Boeing 737.

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

PM Lee pays last respects to late Thai King in Bangkok

  • President Tony Tan Keng Yam paid his respects to Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej yesterday in the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
  • Dr Tan, who was accompanied by his wife Mary, as well as officials from Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry, laid a wreath by the late monarch's royal urn and signed a condolence book.
  • His visit came three days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong travelled to Bangkok to do the same.
  • "King Bhumibol was also a close friend of many countries, including Singapore. Under his long reign, the bilateral relations between Singapore and Thailand strengthened significantly," wrote Dr Tan.
  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching have paid their last respects to the late King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyade at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
  • The Singapore leader laid a wreath at the Royal Urn in the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall and also signed the book of condolences on Oct 21.
  • A scheduled meeting between Prime Minister Lee and Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha was cancelled due to last-minute scheduling difficulties, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
  • The prime minister had earlier paid his respects to King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Thai Embassy in Singapore on Oct 14, a day after the 88-year-old died at a Bangkok hospital.
  • PM Lee Hsien Loong signs the condolence book at the Thai Embassy in Singapore, 14 Oct 2016.
  • People pay respect and sign condolence book for the late Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Thai embassy in Singapore on 15 October 2016 .
  • According to the embassy, a condolence book will be open for signing at its premises at 370 Orchard Road, from Monday to Friday, from 10am to 12.30pm and 2pm to 4.30pm.
  • Visitors can access the embassy via its Claymore Road entrance.
  • St Francis Methodhist School students offer prayers for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Wat Ananda Metyarama, the Thai Buddhist temple along Bukit Merah Rd.
  • This group of students were at the Royal Thai embassy this morning and were told that the embassy would only open at 4pm.
  • A group of close to 33 St Francis Methodhist School students wait outside the Royal Thai embassy on 14 Oct 2016. They were told to return at 4pm when the embassy would allow well-wishers in.
  • A student from St Francis Methodist stands outside the Royal Thai embassy gates on 14 Oct 2016.
  • (L-R) Stamp Promphan, 15, and Pirapat Chaiya,13, from St Francis Methodhist School outside the Royal Thai embassy on 14 Oct 2016.
  • St Francis Methodhist School students offer prayers for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Wat Ananda Metyarama, the Thai Buddhist temple along Bukit Merah Rd.
  • St Francis Methodhist School students offer prayers for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Wat Ananda Metyarama, the Thai Buddhist temple along Bukit Merah Rd.
  • St Francis Methodhist School students offer prayers for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Wat Ananda Metyarama, the Thai Buddhist temple along Bukit Merah Rd.
  • The Thai flag flies at half mast at the Royal Thai embassy in Jakarta on October 14, 2016.
  • The Thai flag flies at half mast at the Royal Thai embassy in Jakarta on October 14, 2016.
  • Ms Darunee sobbing after hearing of Thai King Bhumibol's death on Oct 13.
  • She had planned to go home next month but is flying back to Bangkok today to pay her respects.
  • Reaction of the Thai people at Golden Mile complex after the demise of Thailand King Bhumibol.
  • Reaction of the Thai people at Golden Mile complex after the demise of Thailand King Bhumibol.
  • Reaction of the Thai people at Golden Mile complex after the demise of Thailand King Bhumibol.
  • Reaction of the Thai people at Golden Mile complex after the demise of Thailand King Bhumibol.
  • Reaction of the Thai people at Golden Mile complex after the demise of Thailand King Bhumibol.
  • People react shortly after it was announced that Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej died at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand, October 13, 2016.
  • Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was the world's longest-reigning monarch, died in hospital on Thursday, the palace said in an announcement.
  • The palace did not give a reason for his death. He was 88 years old.
  • The king was credited with restoring the influence of Thailand's royalty during 70 years on the throne and earning the devotion of many of his subjects.
  • For the majority of the country's 68 million people, the king was a pillar of stability in rapidly changing times.
  • King Bhumibol, who ascended the throne on June 9, 1946, was seen as a force for unity, and there have long been concerns that the political tensions that have riven Thailand over the past decade could worsen after his death.
  • A well-wisher gestures in front of a picture of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, October 10, 2016.
  • Well-wishers hold portraits of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, October 10, 2016.
  • A well-wisher hold up a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, October 10, 2016.
  • Well-wishers wear pink shirts as they pray in front of a picture of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, October 11, 2016.
  • A well-wisher wears a pink shirt as she prays in front of a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, October 11, 2016.
  • A well-wisher prays for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand, October 12, 2016.
  • Well-wishers pray for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand, October 12, 2016.
  • Well-wishers hold pictures of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they pray for him at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand, October 12, 2016.
  • Well-wishers hold pictures of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they pray for him at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand, October 12, 2016.
  • A well-wisher holds a picture of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand, October 12, 2016.
  • A well-wisher holds a picture of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as she prays for him at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand, October 12, 2016.
  • Well-wishers hold pictures of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they pray for him at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand, October 12, 2016.
  • Well-wishers hold pictures of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they pray for him at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand October 12, 2016.
  • Well-wishers hold portraits of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, October 11, 2016.
  • A well-wisher holds portraits of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, October 11, 2016.
  • A well-wisher prays for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand October 12, 2016.
  • Well-wishers pray for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand October 12, 2016.
  • A well-wisher weeps as she prays for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand October 12, 2016.
  • A well-wisher prays for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand October 12, 2016.
  • Well-wishers pray for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand October 12, 2016.
  • A well-wisher prays for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he is residing in Bangkok, Thailand October 12, 2016.

Thai television stations switched to a special announcement that began with black and white photographs of the king, before a formally dressed presenter read out the palace statement.

Bhumibol's death is a major test for the country's generals, who seized power in 2014 vowing to restore stability after a decade of political chaos, a turbulent period exacerbated by the king's declining health as jostling elites competed for power.

The military has deep links with the palace and many inside the kingdom saw the putsch as a move to ensure generals could stamp down on any instability during a succession.

It is difficult to overestimate how important Bhumibol has been to most of his subjects, who from cradle to grave have been taught about his devotion to his people in newspapers, history books and nightly television broadcasts.

Read also: World's longest-reigning monarchs

Backed by an intense palace-driven personality cult, he is revered as a demigod by many, seen as rising above the din of the kingdom's notoriously fractious political scene.

It is not unusual to see Thais moved to tears when they talk of a future without him.

Officially known as King Rama IX, he descended from the Chakri dynasty which came to power in Thailand in the late eighteenth century.

His subjects have had many years to get used to the prospect of no longer having Bhumibol - their king has not been seen in public for months and has suffered years of ill health.

A look back at Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej's life

  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest-reigning monarch. His health has been fragile and he has not appeared in public for months.
  • King Ananda Mahidol (pictured here), 20, is found dead in his palace bedroom in Bangkok with a single gunshot wound in the head from a Colt .45 he kept by his bedside. His death shocks the nation. Within hours, his brother Bhumibol Adulyadej, 18, is named the new king. He returns to Switzerland to continue his studies while an uncle acts as regent. The case is later ruled as murder, and two royal servants and a personal secretary of the former king are convicted and executed for plotting to assassinate him.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej being carried by a cortege during the coronation ceremony in Thailand. Taken on May 5, 1950.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit posing with their first child Princess Ubol Ratana in April 1951.
  • (on left) Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej receiving flowers from a villager.
  • (on right) Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit posing with their first two children Princess Ubol Ratana and Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn in 1955.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (centre) on the throne at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej taking a picture during his trip to Cambodia. Taken on July 7, 1980
  • Japanese Emperor Akihito (second from right) and Empress Michiko (second from left) posing with Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (right) and Queen Sirikit at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Taken on Sept 25, 1991.
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej receiving garlands from villagers. Photo made available by the Thai Royal Bureau on June 5, 2006.
  • (From left) Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Sirikit appearing at a balcony of Anantasamakom Throne Hall in Bangkok to mark the King's birthday. Taken on Dec 5, 1999.
  • Tennis player Paradorn Srichaphan (left) being granted a royal audience with Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Chitralada Palace in Bangkok.
  • French President Jacques Chirac (right) speaking to Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the start of a gala dinner at the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Taken on Feb 17, 2006.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his wife Queen Sirikit (left) reviewing the guard of honour during the military parade to celebrate his 81st birthday in Bangkok, Thailand. Taken on Dec 2, 2008.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he sits on a wheelchair during an appearance at a hospital in Bangkok on Oct 23, 2009.
  • Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting King Bhumibol at his palace in Hua Hin in 2009.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej waving to well-wishers after the royal ceremony for his 83rd birthday in Bangkok. Taken on Dec 5, 2010.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (centre) sitting in a wheelchair as he departs Siriraj hospital to grant an audience on his 85th birthday celebrations in Bangkok, Thailand on Dec 5, 2012.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (centre), Queen Sirikit (second from right) and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (right) visiting Thung Makham. Taken on May 25, 2012.
  • King Bhumibol has been on the throne since 1946. A well-wisher was among those who prayed for his well-being in Bangkok on Oct 10, 2016.
  • On Oct 10, 2016, well-wishers pray in front of a picture of King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok where he is usually treated when ill.
  • A well-wisher at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, where the king is treated when his health condition is serious.
  • Images of King Bhumibol were held during a parade at a festival in Narathiwat on Sep 17, 2016.
  • King Bhumibol has been in hospital since the end of May and has received treatment for various ailments.
  • Well-wishers held up portraits of King Bhumibol at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok on Oct 10, 2016.
  • The king was last seen in public on Jan 11, 2016, when he left hospital to visit his Bangkok palace for a few hours.
  • The king is widely adored by many Thais, who revere him as a semi-divine figure.
  • This exquisite cigarette box was a gift from King Bhumibol to Singapore's President S R Nathan in 2005. It is displayed at the Istana Heritage Gallery.
  • King Bhumibol welcoming President S R Nathan in his state visit in 2005.
  • Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew ande Mrs Lee meeting King Bhumibol at his palace in Bangkok in 1998.
  • The king has been treated for various ailments during a year-long hospitalisation in the Thai capital.
  • Many Thais see the king as a pillar of stability in a country which has seen bouts of political unrest over the past decade following the downfall of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
  • Women offer prayers for Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital, where the king is being treated, in Bangkok on October 11, 2016.
  • Women offer prayers for Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital, where the king is being treated, in Bangkok on October 11, 2016.
  • Women hold portraits of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they pray for his health at Siriraj Hospital, where the king is being treated, in Bangkok on October 11, 2016.
  • Thai citizens started wearing pink en masse as soon as word spread that the colour has "auspicious power" for their beloved King's good health.
  • Many people wearing pink headed to the Siriraj Hospital to write get-well messages and pray for His Majesty to recover.
  • Many people wearing pink headed to the Siriraj Hospital to write get-well messages and pray for His Majesty to recover.
  • Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha along with his wife, plus military leaders, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, and Cabinet ministers, left well-wishes for the monarch at Sala Sahathai Samakhom in the Grand Palace, while wearing pink and yellow.
  • Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha along with his wife, plus military leaders, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, and Cabinet ministers, left well-wishes for the monarch at Sala Sahathai Samakhom in the Grand Palace, while wearing pink and yellow.
  • Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha along with his wife, plus military leaders, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, and Cabinet ministers, left well-wishes for the monarch at Sala Sahathai Samakhom in the Grand Palace, while wearing pink and yellow.

On Sunday and Wednesday the palace released two unusually grave health statements, saying the monarch was on a ventilator, battling kidney problems and that his condition was "not stable".

But his passing will still be a huge shock to the nation.

His reign spanned a remarkable era in which Thailand transformed itself from an impoverished, rural nation into one of the region's most successful economies, dodging the civil wars and communist takeovers of its neighbours.

He built a reputation for criss-crossing the nation to visit the rural poor and sometimes intervened to quell key moments of political violence - although other times he stayed silent and he approved most of the army's many coups during his reign.

Any criticism or effective republican sentiment has been erased inside Thailand by a draconian lese majeste law, use of which has surged since the military's latest takeover.

In recent years, and especially since the 2014 coup, the heir apparent Vajiralongkorn has made more frequent public appearances inside Thailand and taken on a larger number of royal engagements.

He will inherit one of the world's richest monarchies.

During his reign Bhumibol, with his establishment allies, built up a multi-billion-dollar-empire spanning property, construction and banks under the banner of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB).

Analysts say the CBP's vast reserves allowed the crown to build a deep network among the Thai elite, helping insulate the king from the political pressures felt by monarchs who rely chiefly on state funding.

The palace's announcement that the king was gravely ill sent shudders through the stock market and pushed the baht currency to a two-month low earlier this week.

"The death of Thailand's highly-revered king will plunge the country into a state of mourning, and also deep political uncertainty," Capital Economics said in a note.

"There is a risk that political tensions flare up, triggering a slowdown in economic growth," it said. "All eyes now will turn to the succession process."

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