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Funeral of beloved Thai king starts after a year of mourning

200,000 Thais had gathered around the Grand Palace to bid an emotional farewell.

Thai mourners stand in a line to pay respect to a portrait of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Thai mourners stand in a line to pay respect to a portrait of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Image: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

A SEA OF black-clad mourners massed across Bangkok’s historic heart today as funeral rituals began for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a revered monarch whose passing after a seven-decade reign left Thailand bereft of its only unifying figure.

As dawn broke an estimated 200,000 Thais had gathered around the Grand Palace to bid an emotional farewell to a monarch known as “father of the nation”, silently packing the pavements, many clutching portraits of the beloved late king.

The golden spires of a spectacular €75 million cremation site, purpose-built for the funeral, were bathed in light as Bhumibol’s son and heir, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, joined Buddhist monks to start a day of sombre processions, colourful pageantry and religious ceremony.

Vajiralongkorn will light the funeral pyre at 10pm (3pm here) as his father, Rama IX of the Chakri dynasty, is laid to rest.

Thailand King Funeral Thai policemen stand guard outside Grand Palace where the body of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is enshrined. Source: Sakchai Lalit

The ceremony will be attended by a “Who’s Who” of Thai power — royals, generals and establishment figures — as well as scores of foreign dignitaries.

The lavish event gives the public a chance to say a final goodbye to a king who was crowned in 1950 and towered over decades of Thai history, before his death last October aged 88 seeded uncertainty in a country ruled by a divisive junta.

A brew of palace propaganda and a harsh lese majesté law burnished the king’s reputation throughout his reign.

But Bhumibol’s intimate connection with his subjects was on ready display.

Bearers in bright coloured traditional garb, flanked by pipers and drummers, carried a symbolic Royal Urn on a palanquin to a temple, an artillery-salute setting the tempo.

As the urn passed by many mourners fully prostrated on the ground, a once abolished practice brought back during Bhumibol’s reign, while others burst into tears.

“He was perfect. He helped the country and Thai people so much. Seventy million Thai people are united in their love for him,” said 65-year-old Wacharadej Tangboonlabkun, who like most Thais knew no other monarch before Bhumibol’s death.

The death of a figure of constancy in a politically combustible country has dipped the kingdom into uncertainty.

“There’s no more a father who only gave to his children,” 47-year-old mourner Kingkan Kuntavee told AFP.

© AFP 2017

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