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Thousands honour Thai king on 60th anniversary

Thousands of Thais crowded roads near the royal palace in Bangkok on Friday to mark Thai king's 60th year on throne.

india Updated: Jun 09, 2006 10:01 IST

Hundreds of thousands of Thais crowded the roads near the royal palace in Bangkok on Friday to catch a glimpse of their revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a speech for celebrations marking his 60th year on the throne.

Donning yellow shirts that symbolize the monarchy, the masses formed a sea of yellow as they waited for the world's longest-serving monarch to appear on the throne hall balcony for his address—only the third such balcony speech of his royal career. "I feel like I am getting to meet with our father," popular Thai actor Sarawuth Poomthong said as he waited in the muggy heat. "This has always been one of my dreams to see the king."

Crowds waved Thai flags as the king and queen approached the throne hall in their cream-coloured car. Once there, the royal family took part in a Buddhist ritual with chanting monks and traditional music to pay respects to their ancestors.

Regarded by many Thais as semi-divine or as the soul of Thailand, the 78-year-old king enjoys widespread appreciation for launching development projects to benefit the rural poor and using his moral influence to calm the country during political turmoil. Royalty and heads of state from around the world have descended upon Bangkok for the festivities, which will include fireworks, feasts and a river parade featuring dozens of gilded ceremonial boats.

Thailand has declared a five-day public holiday for the events, closing on Tuesday with a royal banquet.

Heads of states and representatives of royal houses from 25 countries _ including Japan's Emperor Akihito, Britain's Prince Andrew and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands -- are expected to attend the events.

Thais have been celebrating informally for weeks, with everyone from street vendors to office workers, television anchors and Cabinet members donning yellow shirts in the king's honour. Yellow corresponds by tradition with the day on which he was born. King Bhumibol was named king on June 9, 1946, after the death of an elder brother.

Although a constitutional monarch with limited powers, he has used his prestige over the years during political crisis to force opposing parties to compromise for the sake of peace and stability. In April, the king rapped the nation's top courts for failing to find a solution to the political deadlock that left Thailand with no working legislature after the inconclusive April 2 elections that were boycotted by the opposition. After being called on the carpet by the king, the nation's top court annulled the vote, paving way for new polls.

Nearly all Thais revere the king also because of his lifelong dedication to helping the country's have-nots. The king has often mingled with the common folk in backwater villages where he has seeded hundreds of development projects.

"I'm so proud of him. He went around the countryside and did a lot for the people," said 65-year-old Noi Pochana, who went to see the king's speech on Friday. "I wish him good health and happiness and to stay with us for a long time."

First Published: Jun 09, 2006 10:01 IST