Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Thai royals collect ashes of princess as crisis looms

AFP , BANGKOK

Thailand’s royal family collected the ashes of the king’s sister yesterday, ending the main phase of an elaborate six-day funeral that has briefly calmed the country’s turbulent political waters.

As monks in saffron robes intoned Buddhist chants, the Thai crown prince and princess received a lacquered, diamond-encrusted urn containing the remains of Princess Galyani, who died of cancer in January at the age of 84.

A solemn procession of more than 800 soldiers dressed in red and dignitaries clad in white then accompanied the urn from the specially built crematorium at a parade ground to the Royal Palace in old Bangkok.

Thousands of mourners turned out to watch the ceremony, which came a day after more than 100,000 Thais attended the lavish US$8.9 million cremation of the princess, the elder sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

“I haven’t slept. Meditation all night long,” said Smarn Chringarm, 52, a member of a protest group that he said was trying to encourage the king to remove the elected government from power.

With the world’s longest reigning monarch and his family treated by Thais as semi-divine, but also non-political, the funeral has been a temporary unifying influence amid the three-month-old political crisis.

Anti-government protesters occupied the main official buildings in Bangkok in August in a bid to force out the government of Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, whom they say is a proxy for ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Allies of Thaksin, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006, and his enemies sat together on Saturday as the king lit the gilded 39m pyre for the princess.

The truce could hold until the king’s 81st birthday on Dec. 5, but then the hostilities between the government and the opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy are likely to reignite, analysts said.

The protest movement against the government exploded into violence on Oct. 7, with two people killed and nearly 500 injured after fierce clashes with police.

The monarchy officially plays no political role, but when the king’s wife Queen Sirikit donated thousands of dollars toward medical expenses and attended the funeral of one of those killed in last month’s protests, demonstrators hailed it as proof of royal support.

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