Picture of the Day: Candles fit for a king

The world's longest-serving monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, yesterday marked his 83rd birthday with a call for unity in Thailand, a frequent plea during his long reign which has been punctuated by frequent outbursts of political crisis.

Thousands of people waved flags and cheered as a car drove the king, who has been on the throne for more than 64 years, to the ceremonial Grand Palace from the hospital where he was admitted more than a year ago with a lung complaint. There has been no detailed explanation for his long period in hospital.

On pavements close to the hospital, crowds lined up five or six deep, the Associated Press reported. Speaking briefly in a slow and rasping voice to dignitaries at the Grand Palace, the king urged people to be clear about their duties and carry them out to the best of their ability.

He called for them to perform "justly and firmly, doing your duties correctly in an appropriate manner, for the security of the country and its benefit".

The annual birthday speech has for several years been the main forum for the king to present his ideas directly to the public.

His near-disappearance from public life has coincided with a period of political instability after a military coup in 2006 against the prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra polarised the country.