Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej urged the nation to work together for “stability” in a speech yesterday on his 86th birthday, marked by an easing of tensions after violent anti-government protests.
The kingdom remains on edge following several days of street clashes during demonstrations aimed at overthrowing Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and curbing the political influence of her brother and former prime minister, Thaksin.
Demonstrators and police in Bangkok have been observing a temporary truce since Wednesday ahead of the birthday celebrations for King Bhumibol, who is treated as a near-deity by many Thais.
At a formal ceremony attended by dignitaries, including the embattled prime minister, her political rivals and the nation’s military heads, the king said the country “has been peaceful for a long time because everybody worked together.”
“Every Thai should be aware of this and should perform their role for the benefit of the country, which is the stability and security of the country,” he said in the speech broadcast on all TV channels.
King Bhumibol, seen as a moral authority in the deeply divided nation, did not specifically mention the recent unrest.
The streets near his seaside palace were a sea of yellow yesterday, as thousands of people wearing his signature color turned out to celebrate in the central coastal town of Hua Hin, where he has lived since leaving hospital in August.
Kneeling supporters wept and shouted “Long live the king,” as the royal convoy made a brief tour of the town’s streets before returning to the palace.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Yingluck both made speeches in praise of the monarch at the solemn birthday ceremony, the first to be held in Hua Hin. Demonstrators, who cleaned up a key rally site in Bangkok in preparation for the birthday festivities, had vowed to pause in reverence yesterday, but to resume their street action today.
Any political action or violence during the public holiday would be seen as a serious sign of disrespect.
A huge portrait of the monarch had been erected at Democracy Monument near the capital’s Grand Palace, where the tub-thumping speeches of a month-long anti-government rally temporarily gave way to cheerful celebrations.
Hundreds gathered to watch the official birthday ceremony on big screens, cheering loudly at the appearance of the king, the world’s longest-serving monarch.
However, demonstrators, who erupted into angry jeers when Yingluck appeared on screen, were insistent that they had not abandoned their fight to oust the government.
“Tomorrow we will protest,” said Khieu, who gave only one name and sported a large, neon yellow “We Love the King” headband.
“I will come back until we win victory for the Thai people,” she added.