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Thai king leaves Bangkok hospital for coastal palace


King Bhumibol Adulyadej

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Thailand’s revered but ageing King Bhumibol Adulyadej Sunday left a Bangkok hospital where he has been recuperating since October for his coastal palace, as hundreds of well-wishers cheered him on his journey.

The 87-year-old king, the world’s longest-serving monarch, is treated as a near-deity by many Thais and his health is a subject of public concern in the politically turbulent country.

The convoy carrying Bhumibol left Siriraj Hospital for his home in the southern town of Hua Hin shortly after 2 pm, with Queen Sirikit, 82, and their daughter Princess Sirindhorn, 60, travelling behind the monarch, all three in separate vehicles.

Hundreds of Thais, many dressed in the royal colour yellow, waved flags and held up photos of Bhumibol as some cheered “Long Live the King!”, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

Bhumibol, formally known as King Rama IX, has spent most of the past few months in hospital after undergoing an operation to remove his gall bladder in October.

In the past two months the monarch has made two brief trips from his hospital bed, one in early May to a nearby palace and one last month to view the Chao Praya river that runs through Bangkok.

No official statements were issued about the king’s health on Sunday.

Most Thais have only known Bhumibol on the throne, and anxiety over the future once his six-decade reign ends is seen as an aggravating factor in Thailand’s bitter political schism.

Last May the military took over in a coup following months of street protests that led to the toppling of former premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government.

It was the latest chapter in Thailand’s long-drawn political conflict, which broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite — backed by parts of the military and judiciary — against rural and working-class voters loyal to Yingluck and her elder brother Thaksin, who was also deposed in a coup in 2006.

Thailand’s generals have said they will hand back power once the country’s constitution has been rewritten and corruption has been expunged.

But critics say the military has used its self-designated status as the defender of the monarchy as a pretext to grab power and ensure the Shinawatras — whose populist parties have won every election since 2001 — never return to politics.

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