King of Thailand: Well-wishers wearing pink gather in Bangkok to pray for ailing Bhumibol Adulyadej

‘The king is the heart of our country. Without a heart, we cannot survive,’ says one well-wisher

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The Independent Online

Thailand’s stock market and currency has tumbled amid the uncertain future of the country due to the ill-health of the country’s monarch. 

Hundreds of people dressed in pink and clutching smouldering sticks of incense have gathered to pray for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in the days after the palace first announced he was in an unstable condition.

On Sunday, the palace said the king’s health was “not stable” and doctors recommended he suspend all royal duties. On Wednesday, a second statement said King Bhumibol’s condition has “overall not yet stabilised”.

Hundreds of Thais have wept and chanted prayers alongside portraits of the 88-year-old king outside Bangkok’s Siriraj hospital.

King Bhumibol, the world’s longest reigning monarch, is widely revered in Thailand. During his seven decades on the throne, he has intervened when events threatened to plunge Thailand into crisis.

Well-wishers wore pink clothes in honour of their king – a colour that has been associated with him since 2007 when royal astrologers said the hue was good for his health. Following the royal announcement, Thais queued in the hundreds to buy pink shirts.

Stocks have slid daily since Sunday, when the royal palace announced that the 88-year-old King Bhumibol’s condition was unstable, the first time it has used that phrase regarding the king’s health. 

On Wednesday, the Stock Exchange of Thailand’s benchmark fell nearly 7 per cent in afternoon trading before recovering somewhat.

King Bhumibol has suffered from a variety of illnesses related to old age, including kidney and lung problems. Last week, doctors put him on dialysis to purify his blood and replaced a tube that drains excess cerebrospinal fluid.

“The king is the heart of our country. So, without a heart, we cannot survive. So we pray for our heart, for the heart of our land,” Donnapha Kladbupha, a 42-year-old English tutor told the Associated Press. “I want to see him come and say hello to the Thai people again.”

He was last seen in public on 11 January, when he spent several hours visiting his palace in the capital, Bangkok.

Three of the king’s four children, including Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, arrived at the hospital on Wednesday afternoon, according to Reuters.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is also head of the ruling junta, cancelled an official engagement in the eastern province of Chonburi on Wednesday morning.

“The prime minister did not undertake his official duties in Chonburi province today in order to prepare for an audience with His Royal Highness the Crown Prince for a routine presentation on the government’s work in progress,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The government spokesman has urged for the Thai public to rely on official announcements for an update on situations, rather than uncorroborated information in social media circles,” the ministry said, without referring to the king’s health.

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said the US-born king has been a “true friend of the United States”. Thailand has long been an ally of the United States, for decades united in opposition to the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.

“He’s a revered figure in Thailand and he’s an admired figure in the United States and we hope his situation will stabilise,” Mr Russel said.

Laws protecting the royals from insult make it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir to the throne or regent.