Thailand’s King Bhumibol, world’s longest reigning monarch, dies at 88


King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died peacefully on Thursday, was the world´s longest reigning monarch, credited with restoring the influence of Thailand´s royalty during 70 years on the throne and earning the devotion of many of his subjects.

For the majority of the country´s 68 million people, the king was a pillar of stability in rapidly changing times – Thailand embraced industrialisation during his reign but also saw its parliamentary democracy punctuated by 10 military coups, the most recent in May 2014.

King Bhumibol, who ascended the throne on June 9, 1946, wasseen as a force for unity, and there have long been concernsthat the political tensions that have driven Thailand over thepast decade could worsen after his death.

That may be less likely under the regime of the leader of the most recent coup, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The former general has held a tight grip on power since toppling the remnants of Thailand´s last democratic government in 2014.”His Majesty has passed away at Siriraj Hospital peacefully,” the palace said in a statement on Thursday, adding he died at 15:52 (0852 GMT).

Thailand has been divided for years between the royalist establishment and the red shirted supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

Telecommunications billionaire Thaksin, now in self-exile, built up a powerful patronage network that competed for power and opportunity with Thailand´s old money order.

Poor Health

The king had been in poor health for some time, and has spent most of the past six years in Bangkok´s Siriraj hospital.

King Bhumibol was re-admitted in May 2015 and was last seen in public in January, when he spent several hours visiting his Bangkok palace.

The Royal Household Bureau in its statement on Thursday did not give a reason for the king´s death.

The king been treated for a respiratory infection, a build up of fluid surrounding the brain and a swollen lung in the past few months.

From illuminated billboards in bustling Bangkok to portraits in offices and millions of rural homes, Thailand is festooned with images of the jazz-loving king.

King Bhumibol headed a conservative establishment that still wields considerable power 84 years after the abolition of absolute monarchy.

Born in 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his father, Prince Mahidol, was studying medicine, King Bhumibol spent much of his early life abroad, first in the United States and then in Switzerland.

He became king in 1946 after the still unexplained gunshot death of his elder brother, 20-year-old King Ananda Mahidol whowas also known as Rama VIII.

King Bhumibol returned to Thailand for good four years later to be crowned King Rama IX.

The saxophone-playing King Bhumibol was a celebrity visitor to foreign capitals in the early years of his reign with Queen Sirikit, a distant cousin whom he married in 1950 shortly before his coronation.

The king who acceded to the throne as a young man cut a quite different figure from the sombre monarch into which he matured.

Over the years, he was groomed as a national figurehead through civic and ceremonial duties. He undertook a stint in the Buddhist monkhood and developed a keen interest in the environment and rural development.