Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies at 88

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A Thai woman prays for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images )

Thailand‘s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a revered and unifying figure who embodied the nation in his 70-year reign, has died aged 88.

Thousands gathered at the hospital, shouting “Long live the king!” Civil servants are ordered to wear black clothes for one year in mourning from Friday US President Obama described the king as a man of “grace and warmth”

The announcement came in a statement from the Royal Palace read on state TV Thursday, and followed a days-long outpouring of support since the king was hospitalized on October 3. He underwent medical procedures over the weekend.

The king died at 3:52 p.m. local time and passed away in a “peaceful manner,” the Royal Palace said, as thousands waited outside the hospital where he lay in nervous anticipation of the news.

King Bhumibol ascended to the throne 70 years ago, making him the world’s longest-reigning living monarch, before his death.

The question of when Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will ascend the throne of Thailand will have to wait, after the successor to the late king said he ‘needs time to mourn his father’.

The prince’s decision was relayed to the media by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, after an extraordinary meeting at Thailand’s National Assembly.

“We are at the most important time. We need to do everything smoothly. I met Crown Prince today and he has been aware that he has been appointed as a successor up until now.

“But he needs time to jointly mourn with Thai people.”

Prince Vajiralongkorn was named as successor to the throne on December 28, 1972.

A people shattered

“This is a man who had earned this nation’s respect over 70 years, for being a leader yes, but also for being a leader who had the common touch,” CNN Correspondent Will Ripley said outside the Siriraj Hospital, where hundred of Thai had gathered for days, waiting for news of the monarch’s health.

Hundreds of people had for days gathered at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital where the king was being treated, and as the sun began to set, the crowd swelled into the thousands.

They were dressed predominantly in pink — an auspicious color believed to restore health — and yellow, which is the color of the King, based on the fact he was born on a Monday.

Some outside the hospital said they didn’t know where else to go for comfort, and many said they had hoped he would live to 120.

“I just wanted to be here and pray for my king with others,” said May, a 22-year-old university student.

Many in the crowd prayed, sang the royal anthem and repeatedly shouted: “Long live the King.”

The announcement, at around 7 p.m., cut through the crowd and gave way to devastated wailing and long embraces. Others stared speechless at their phones, sharing messages from friends and family on social media.

Ovartvoraporn Bhakchuda, a Thai woman who spoke to CNN outside the hospital, was unable to hold back her tears, saying that she hoped the news was not true.

“We lost our father today,” she said.

“He is a father … that wanted to do everything, the best thing, for his kids,” she said.

“With all my heart I hope that miracle will happen. I want to believe in miracles…I still believe up until now that this is a lie.”

According to the palace statement, all government buildings will fly the Thai flag at half-staff for 30 days starting October 14. And in a sign of how deeply this leader’s death will be marked, all civil servants have been ordered to wear black clothing for a year as a sign of mourning, the palace said.

Tributes from around the world

Condolences began pouring in from world leaders. US President Barack Obama said he recalled the king as a man of “grace and warmth,” and his “deep affection and compassion for the Thai people,” when he visited the monarch in 2012.

“As the revered leader and only monarch that most Thais have ever known, His Majesty was a tireless champion of his country’s development and demonstrated unflagging devotion to improving the standard of living of the Thai people,” Obama said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said: “His Majesty guided the Kingdom of Thailand with dignity, dedication and vision throughout his life. He will be greatly missed.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the king as “one of the tallest leaders of our times.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also tweeted his thoughts.

A 70-year reign of ‘respect’

The king’s appeal stretched from the rich urban elite to the poor agricultural workers in the provinces. During his reign, he skillfully charted a course that put the monarchy at the center of Thai society, acting as a force for community and tradition even as the country lurched between political crises and more than a dozen military coups, both attempted and successful.

He acceded to the throne in 1946 in the aftermath of Thailand’s occupation by Japan during the Second World War, and ended deep into the Internet age. Until his death, he reigned over more than 20 prime ministers and repeated constitutional changes. He also helped the country navigate the disruptive effects of the nearby Vietnam War during the 1960s and ’70s.

For most Thais, he is the only monarch they have ever known, and before his death, analysts expressed concern that his passing will remove a vital point of unity in an increasingly divided country.

Also known as Rama IX — a reference to his lineage stretching from Rama I, the founder of the Chakri dynasty — Bhumibol commanded great love and respect within Thailand. An energetic public relations machine promoted his popularity, which led to his portrait being adorned with marigolds from the marble halls of Bangkok office lobbies to the poorest of rural homes.

The king’s health had been in slow decline for some time. The palace said that a team of royal physicians had tried their best and provided the closest care.

Toward the end of his reign, his presence in public life waned. Doctors at the Siriraj Hospital had earlier said that king was having problems with his kidneys, blood flow to the left side of his heart and blood pressure.

Last month, he was treated for a severe infection, reduced kidney function and fluid in his lung. He had surgery to remove his gallbladder last year.

” ride around Bangkok, to celebrate his father’s 88th birthday.

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