BANGKOK, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Thailand’s people woke up on Friday to the first day in 70 years without King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a king worshipped as a father-figure who guided the nation through decades of change and turmoil.
The king, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, died in a Bangkok hospital on Thursday. He was 88.
He had been in poor health for several years but his death has shocked the Southeast Asian nation of 67 million people and plunged it into mourning.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is expected to be the new king but he does not command the same adoration that his father earned over a lifetime on the throne.
Thailand has endured bomb attacks and economic worries recently while rivalry simmers between the military-led establishment and populist political forces after a decade of turmoil including two coups and deadly protests.
The king stepped in to calm crises on several occasions during his reign and many Thais worry about a future without him. The military has for decades invoked its duty to defend the monarchy to justify its intervention in politics.
Military government leader Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the country was in “immeasurable grief ... profound sorrow and bereavement”.
He said security was his top priority and called for businesses to stay active and stock investors not to dump shares. Banks and financial markets are to stay open on Friday, industry officials said.
“FATHER HAS GONE”
Security was stepped up in Bangkok’s old quarter of palaces, temples and ministries with soldiers at checkpoints, government offices and intersections.
In the early hour of Friday, black-and-white footage of the king playing jazz on the saxophone was being shown on all local television channels.
Prayuth said Prince Vajiralongkorn wanted to grieve with the people and leave the formal succession until later, when the president of parliament will invite him to ascend the throne.
“Long live His Majesty the new king,” Prayuth said.
Thailand’s strict lese-majeste laws have left little room for public discussion about the succession.
The junta has promised an election next year and pushed through a constitution to ensure its oversight of civilian governments. It looks firmly in control for a royal transition.
Anguish rippled through the crowd of hundreds praying outside the king’s hospital when his death was announced.
“We came here hoping for a miracle. We hoped the news wasn’t true,” said lawyer Pimook Linpaisarn, 32.
He came to the hospital with his girlfriend Aunchisa Saekuay, who said the restaurant she runs was closed until further notice.
“It’s like our father has gone,” she wept.
In the backpacker enclave of Khao San Road, across the river from the hospital, shops and restaurants were as busy as usual.
Some bars shut and many turned down the music but police said there had been no order to close down any establishments.
Prayuth told people to avoid festivities for 30 days of mourning. The state sector will observe a year of mourning.
Most Thais have known no other monarch and King Bhumibol’s picture is hung in almost every house, school and office.
Until his later years, he was featured on television almost every evening, often trudging through rain, map in hand and camera around his neck, visiting a rural development project.
Queen Sirikit, 84, has also been in poor health over recent years.
The government has set up a telephone hotline to help people cope with grief, a spokesman said.
Prayuth warned against anyone taking advantage of the situation to cause trouble. Politicians from all sides will be in mourning.
Thai stocks and the baht currency are likely to be volatile in the short term and consumers could cut spending, but assuming a smooth transition, major economic disruption was not expected, the Eurasia Group of risk analysts said in a report before the king’s death. (Additional reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall, Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Pracha Hariraksapitak, Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Pairat Temphairojana; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)