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Thousands of bicycle riders honor Thai king in Bangkok

Thailand's crown prince has led a mass cycle event through Bangkok in honor of his father, the ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The "Bike for Dad" celebration comes amid a crackdown against critics of the monarchy.

Some 100,000 people turned out in Bangkok on Friday, organizers said. Top military and political leaders also joined the procession of bike riders in the Thailand's capital.

The 63-year old

crown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn

(pictured above on a red bike wearing blue gloves), headed the cyclists along the 29-kilometer (18-mile) route.

"Many people want to share this moment to send a sign to our king that we all love him very much," said 44-year old Nusara Anuntavanichaya, who turned up along with thousands of spectators.

The "Bike for Dad" ride is part of national celebrations following king's Bhumibol Adulyadej 88th birthday last week. King's birthday is celebrated as Father's day in Thailand.

Wearing yellow

The monarch is a highly revered figure in the country burdened by years of political unrest. However, the king has spent much of the last six years in a Bangkok hospital, due to mounting health problems.

In August, the Royal Household Bureau said that the elderly ruler received treatment for "water on the brain", or hydrocephalus.

The Friday event is also seen as a chance for the crown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to bolster his public image.

The leaders of

a military junta,

which has ruled Thailand since May 2014, praised the heir apparent, clad in yellow as a nod to the official color of the royal family.

"I am delighted that the Crown Prince graciously inaugurates the 'Bike for Dad' ... to honor the King on his 88th birthday," army chief turned premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha said.

The bicycle ride was broadcast live at all public television channels in Bangkok.

Regime under fire

The Thailand royal family is protected by one of the harshest lese majeste laws in the world, threatening jail sentences of up to 15 years to anybody who "defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir apparent or regent."

The army regime has been facing increasing criticism over the application of the royal defamation law.

Many observers accuse the junta of

interpreting the law too broadly

and using it to persecute its political opponents.

Earlier in the week, a man was arrested for 'liking' a doctored photo of the king.

dj/jil (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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