|People listen to King Bhumibol Adulyadej speak on a giant screen on his 86th birthday at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on Thursday. (AP-Yonhap News)|
BANGKOK (AFP) ― Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej urged the nation to work together for “stability” in a speech Thursday on his 86th birthday, marked with a lull in tensions after violent antigovernment protests.
The kingdom remains on edge following several days of street clashes during demonstrations aimed at overthrowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and curbing the political influence of her brother Thaksin.
Demonstrators and police in Bangkok have been observing a temporary truce since Wednesday ahead of the birthday celebrations for King Bhumibol, who is treated as a near-deity by many Thais.
At a formal ceremony attended by Thai dignitaries including the embattled premier, her political rivals and the nation’s military heads, the king said the country “has been peaceful for a long time because everybody worked together.”
“Every Thai should be aware of this and should perform their role for the benefit of the country, which is the stability and security of the country,” he said in the speech broadcast on all Thai television channels.
The streets near the king’s seaside palace were a sea of yellow Thursday as thousands of people wearing his signature color turned out to celebrate in the central coastal town of Hua Hin, where he has lived since leaving hospital in August.
Weeping supporters shouted “long live the King!” and waved Thai national flags as the royal convoy made a brief tour of the town’s streets before returning to the palace.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Yingluck both made speeches in praise of the monarch at the solemn birthday ceremony, the first to be held in Hua Hin.
Demonstrators, who cleaned up a key rally site in old Bangkok in preparation for the birthday festivities, have vowed to pause in reverence on Thursday but to resume their street action on Friday.
King Bhumibol, the world’s longest-serving monarch, has suffered from a range of ailments in recent years, but left the Bangkok hospital where he had lived since 2009 to move to his Hua Hin palace with Queen Sirikit earlier this year.
Any political action or violence on his birthday would be viewed as a serious sign of disrespect.
Thailand has been periodically rocked by sometimes bloody unrest since former premier Thaksin was deposed by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.
Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to repel protesters trying to occupy key ministries in the unrest at the weekend, which left five dead and over 200 injured.
The long-running political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite backed by the military, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin, a billionaire businessman-turned-populist politician.
The recent protests mark the biggest clashes since dozens of people were killed in a crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin rallies in Bangkok three years ago.
The demonstrations are aimed at toppling Yingluck’s government and replacing it with an unelected “people’s council.”
They were triggered by an amnesty bill, since abandoned by Yingluck’s ruling party, which opponents feared would have allowed Thaksin to return to his home country. He fled in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction he contends is politically motivated.