Ailing Thai king appears in public

Thailand's 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej appeared in public yesterday for the first time since he was admitted to hospital more than a month ago, bringing relief to well-wishers in this politically divided nation.

His appearance followed a pronouncement by the palace – which had been giving daily updates on his condition – that his health was "stable". The king's health is an extremely sensitive topic in Thailand, largely because of concerns about his succession.

He is a constitutional king with no formal political role, but he has repeatedly brought calm in times of political turbulence. After 63 years on the throne, he is considered a moral authority and a unifying figure for Thailand.

Wearing a light-blue, short-sleeved shirt, King Bhumibol was wheeled in an electric wheelchair into a closed-off area on the ground floor of the hospital in Bangkok to garland the statues of his late parents. He looked alert and much the same as in previous public appearances. He raised his arm to greet the public as he was wheeled through the hospital corridor.

Hundreds of well-wishers shouted out, "Long live the king!" and put their hands together in prayer.

"I am so happy our royal father is better. I hope he leaves the hospital soon because Thailand needs him," said Wasana Sriboomtham, a 62-year-old retired teacher at the hospital, with tears in her eyes.

The king ascended to the throne in 1946 and is the world's longest-serving head of state.