Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej has died aged 88, according to a statement from the Royal Palace read on state TV this morning (Thursday).
The announcement followed a days-long outpouring of support since the king was hospitalised. He underwent medical procedures over the weekend.
King Bhumibol’s heir-apparent is 63-year-old Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who does not attract the same level of affection as his father.
Strict lese-majeste laws mean public discussion of the succession are punishable by lengthy jail terms.
Given the pivotal role the king has played in maintaining the balance of power in Thailand’s volatile political environment, the succession will be a formidable challenge for the government, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok.
King Bhumibol, who was born in Cambridge in the US state of Massachusetts, acceded to the throne on 9 June 1946 after his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, died.
Though a constitutional monarch with limited powers, King Bhumibol was regarded by many Thais as semi-divine. They looked to him to intervene in times of high tension.
He was seen as a unifying and calming influence through numerous coups and 20 constitutions.
However, his critics argued he had endorsed military takeovers and at times had failed to speak out against human rights abuses. (Excerpts from CNN and BBC)