Tens of thousands queue to pay respects to late Thai King

Thousands of Thais streamed into the gates of Bangkok's Grand Palace on Saturday as the public was granted its first chance to enter the throne hall where the body of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is lying in state.

Thailand mourn

Bhumibol, who died aged 88 two weeks ago, was adored by many of his subjects and seen as an anchor of stability in a kingdom rocked by political turmoil.

His passing has thrust the country into a year of official mourning, with many Thais wearing only black and white since his death and TV channels devoting hours of airtime to footage from his 70-year reign. 

For the past two weeks crowds have massed outside the Grand Palace, a compound of shimmering temples and pavilions in Bangkok's old quarter, to pay tribute before a portrait of the late monarch.

But Saturday was the first time the public has been allowed to enter the ornate throne hall where his body is lying in a coffin, out of sight, near a gilded urn.

An initial plan to limit visitors to 10,000 per day was dropped Saturday after crowds swelled to 100,000, according to a monitoring centre outside the palace. 

Thailand's arch-royalist military government, which came to power in a 2014 coup, has encouraged mass displays of devotion for the late king and arranged a flurry of free bus, train and boat rides to move mourners to the capital.

It has also stepped up its enforcement of lese majeste -- a law that punishes criticism of the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison per infringement.

All media based in Thailand must self-censor to avoid falling foul of the law. 

The legislation has also severely curbed public discussion about the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has yet to attract the same level of devotion as his father. 

In a move that surprised many and veered from tradition, the 64-year-old asked to delay his proclamation as king in order to grieve with the nation, according the junta.

The government has not provided a clear timeline for when he will formally ascend the throne.


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