Millions of Thai Honor King

The Associated Press
Friday, June 9, 2006; 6:26 PM

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Millions of Thais wore their king's royal color Friday, turning Bangkok into a sea of yellow to honor the world's longest-serving monarch as he marked 60 years on the throne with a plea for political unity.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 78, stepped onto a palace balcony wearing a gold brocade gown and greeted an adoring crowd of hundreds of thousands in what was only the third such appearance of his reign. Cannons boomed in salute.

Virtually all the onlookers _ and most Thais throughout the capital _ wore the royal color in an organized tribute that has become a nationwide mania, with vendors scrambling to keep yellow shirts in stock.

Young and old jammed the Royal Plaza and surrounding streets, stretching as far as the eye could see. Many had come a day earlier. Police estimated as many as 700,000 were in the crowd.

"I came because I want to see the king," said Pichitchai Charoenkornpracha, a 12-year-old boy from the Bangkok suburb of Nonthaburi. "I love him. I wish him a long life and happiness."

Millions of Thais watched on television while the throng outside the palace waved flags and welcomed the king with a deafening roar, then turned quiet to hear his words.

"Unity is a basis for all Thais to help preserve and bring prosperity to the country in the long run," the king said in a speech that lasted less than five minutes. "If Thais uphold these ethics, it will ensure that Thailand will stand firmly."

Many Thais shed tears of joy as the king counseled kindness and compassion, holding their hands together in reverence and chanting "Long Live The King!"

When Bhumibol finished, he stood with Queen Sirikit on the balcony, waving to the crowd.

Bhumibol was named king on June 9, 1946, after the death of his older brother, Ananda. He has reigned through dozens of governments, democratic and dictatorial.

Although a constitutional monarch with limited powers, Bhumibol has used his prestige over the years during political crises to force opposing parties to compromise for the sake of peace and stability.

The king prodded the nation's top courts in April to resolve a political deadlock that left Thailand with no working legislature and only a caretaker government after inconclusive elections boycotted by the opposition. Following the king's advice, top judges annulled the vote, clearing the way for new polls.

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