Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej has died after a long illness, the palace announced Thursday, ending a remarkable seven-decade reign and leaving a divided people bereft of a towering and rare figure of unity.
“At 15:52 (0852 GMT) he died at Siriraj Hospital peacefully,” the Royal Household Bureau said in a statement.
Thais flooded social media with digital prayers while crowds kept vigil outside a Bangkok hospital for the ailing king on Thursday as the deeply polarized nation faced the prospect of losing its figure of unity.
Bhumibol, 88, was the world’s longest serving monarch, beloved by his people and portrayed by the palace as a guiding light through decades of political turmoil, coups and violent unrest.
He was ill and hospital-bound for most of the last two years but his already frail health took a turn for the worse in the past week.
It is a major test for the country’s generals, who seized power in 2014 vowing to restore stability after a decade of political chaos — a turbulent period exacerbated by the king’s declining health as jostling elites competed for power.
Former army chief turned Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha cancelled his planned appearance at an evening gala dinner with police, reporters were told.
Government House reporters were also informed he had pulled out of a trip to India that was slated to begin on Sunday.
The military has deep links with the palace and many inside the kingdom saw the putsch as a move to ensure generals could stamp down on any instability during the succession.
On Sunday and Wednesday the palace released two unusually grave health statements, saying Bhumibol was on a ventilator, battling kidney problems and that his condition was “not stable”.
That sparked stock market jitters and prompted crowds of anxious devotees to gather outside the riverside hospital in Bangkok where he is being treated.
Around 500 people held prayers outside the hospital, many dressed in pink in the belief that the colour will bring the king good luck.
“I wanted to be close to him to pray for him because I love him,” Anon Lim, 58, from northern Uttaradit province, told AFP. “He has done a lot for Thailand and for us.”
Many burned incense sticks as they prayed and left flower garlands at the hospital.