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Asia

Thai junta mobilizes the masses for late king

Thousands of Thais have streamed through the gates of Bangkok's Grand Palace courtesy of free government-provided transport. The public was granted its first chance to view King Bhumibol Adulyadej lying in state.

 

Around 80,000 Thais gathered Saturday hoping to pay their respects before the funeral urn of the world's longest-reigning monarch. For the past two weeks crowds have massed outside the Grand Palace, a compound of shimmering temples and pavilions in Bangkok's old quarter, to pay tribute to the king who lived to the age of 88.

"I have been waiting here since 1 a.m.," Saman Daoruang, an 84-year-old sitting in a massive queue told the Agence France-Presse news agency. The line snaked around a large field outside the palace.

Thailand's arch-royalist military government, which took power in a 2014 coup, has coordinated mass displays of devotion for the late king and arranged free transport to move mourners to the capital. It has also stepped up its enforcement of lese majeste, a law that punishes criticism of the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison per infringement.

Media based in Thailand must self-censor to avoid falling foul of the law, one of the world's strictest. The legislation has also severely curbed public discussion about the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has yet to attract the same loyalty as his father. 

Thailand's military junta has declared a year-long period of mourning for the late king, formally known as Rama IX, and many Thais are wearing black as a sign of respect. Thailand's government said last week that it had asked countries to extradite nearly 20 people suspected of insulting the monarchy but it's unclear if any nation would comply.

jar/jlw (AFP, Reuters)

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