Thousands of cyclists have been led through the streets of Bangkok by Thailand's crown prince in a tribute to his mother. The event is also an exercise in public relations at a time of concern over the king's health.
Thailand's 63-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn headed the first group of cyclists at the "Bike for Mom" event on Sunday in Bangkok's historic quarter, honoring his elderly mother, Queen Sirikit, shortly after her 83rd birthday on August 12. The day also marks the celebration of Mother's Day in Thailand.
The 43-kilometer (27-mile) event is taking place across the country and aims to break the world record of almost 73,000 people at a mass cycling event. The record is currently held by Taiwan. According to official numbers, more than 254,000 bikers registered for "Bike for Mom."
The crown prince's rare high-profile public appearance came at a time of serious concern over his father, 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and the question of royal succession. Both the king and the queen are in declining health and were hospitalized.
Thailand's key political figures, including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and several other members of the ruling junta, took part in the cycling event. Prayut, who led last year's military coup in Thailand, said the event was to "show our love for royalty." He justified the toppling of the elected government in May 2014 as necessary to end months of protests and to fight corruption.
The military depicts itself as a defender of monarchy in Thailand, overseeing a surge in the number of prosecutions under the country's draconian laws against royal defamation. This month, a man was sentenced to 30 years in prison for insulting the monarchy on Facebook.
das/sgb (AFP, AP, dpa)