Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, making his first public comments since being hospitalised, marked his 82nd birthday today with a call for peace and stability in a country that has been rocked by anti-government protests. Thousands of well-wishers waving Thai flags cheered, cried and chanted "Song Phra Charoen" or "Long Live the King" as the monarch's motorcade made its way to the Grand Palace from the Bangkok hospital where he has been staying since September 19.
Looking alert but tired and showing little expression, the king returned to the hospital after briefly appearing in front of members of the royal family, government officials and lawmakers. "My happiness and prosperity will happen when the country flourishes and stabilises", the king said, seated on a golden throne and dressed in a gold brocade robe. "The progress and stability will come true if everyone in the nation discharges their duty with all their might and puts the common interest before their own interest."
He did not mention the ongoing political crisis, which was sparked by a 2006 military coup that ousted the prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose supporters and opponents have since waged sometimes violent demonstrations. The king's brief comments - and journey to and from hospital - were broadcast live on Thai television. King Bhumibol has been on the throne for 63 years and is the world's longest-reigning monarch. While he is constitutional monarch with no formal political role, he is widely revered and regarded as the country's sole unifying figure.