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[UPDATED] Thailand on Edge as King's Health Deteriorates

[UPDATE] At 3:52pm on Thursday, October 13, Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away at age 88, according to The Guardian.

Tensions are high in Thailand as citizens await further news on the health of their king, the world’s longest-reigning monarch.

Last Sunday, a royal announcement described the condition of 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has spent much of the last year inside Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital, as “not stable”, raising alarm among the country’s nearly 68 million people, reports Channel News Asia.

In a nation where royalty is revered and a lese majeste law shields high-ranking royals from any negative commentary, the less-than-optimistic announcement came as a shock to Thai citizens.

“This is an extraordinary statement from the Royal Household Bureau. Usually they try to say something positive, not this time,” professor emeritus of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina Kevin Hewison told the South China Morning Post.

While official updates regarding the health of the king are typically upbeat, the wording of Sunday’s announcement set off a wave of concern across the country. The Thai Baht fell against the dollar, and the country’s stock market also took a dip. Citizens donned pink in honor of the ailing monarch, who was once told by a royal astrologer that it was an auspicious color for him, reports the Bangkok Post.

Elsewhere in Thailand, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha canceled official business in Chonburi province to return to the capital for a meeting with Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, according to Channel News Asia. In the event that King Bhumibol becomes unable to continue his royal duties, his son will ascend the throne.

"The Crown Prince is returning [to Thailand] and I will wait for him to grant me audience so I can brief him on the government's work," Prime Minister Chan-ocha, texted to AFP, the news outlet reports.

The Thai leader also urged citizens to pay notice exclusively to official announcements in order to avoid confusion.

The health of King Bhumibol, who has not made a public appearance in nearly a year, worsened while receiving hemodialysis, a process which cleanses the blood of toxins, reports Reuters. Over the last two years, the monarch has grappled with renal failure, breathing difficulties, infection and hydrocephalus, or a build-up of fluid in the brain.

The news is particularly worrisome given the adoration many Thais hold for their monarch. Crowned in 1946, King Bhumibol is viewed as a symbol of stability even amid Thailand’s political upheavals; he is the only king most Thais have ever known. However since the absolute monarchy was abolished in the country in 1932, Thailand has seen a total of 19 coups, 12 of which were successful. Prime Minister Chan-o-cha and his military junta are the latest administration to come to power by way of a coup.

While the South China Morning Post claims the transition from King Bhumibol to his son will be smooth, Channel News Asia cites growing concern among business leaders in the country, who fear the king’s passing could cause economic instability.

At the very least, the king’s death would prolong the rule of Thailand’s military junta: experts believe a royal funeral could delay the elections set to take place at the end of next year, reports the South China Morning Post. The country has not held a national election since 2011.

[Photo via The Independent]

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