Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has died at the age of 88, the palace announced Thursday, leaving a divided nation bereft of a rare figure of unity.
US President Barack Obama led global tributes to Bhumibol, whose death ends a remarkable seven-decade reign and plunges Thailand into a deeply uncertain future.
Most Thais have known no other monarch and he has been portrayed as a guiding light through decades of political turmoil, coups and violent unrest.
In a statement the palace said the king passed away at 3:52 pm (0852 GMT). As the news filtered out, large crowds erupted in mourning outside the hospital where Bhumibol spent most of the last two years, many of them wailing and sobbing.
“How will Thailand live without you father?” cried one distressed young man as others chanted “Long Live the King!”
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the former army chief who leads Thailand’s ruling junta, described the king’s passing as “the most devastating moment for Thais” since the death of his predecessor and older brother Ananda in 1946.
He moved quickly to declare that the king’s 64-year-old son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is the named successor.
The crown prince is much less well-known to Thais and has yet to attain his father’s widespread popularity. He spends much of his time overseas, especially in Germany, and is a keen pilot. -AFP