- Associated Press - Thursday, December 5, 2013

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej marked his 86th birthday on Thursday with a call for national unity and stability, but he offered no further guidance on how his polarized nation might find its way out of its bitter political standoff.

Many people had hoped the visibly infirm king would use his annual birthday speech to step in — as he has in the past — to broker peace in the conflict, which has led to street fighting by anti-government mobs seeking to occupy the prime minister’s office and other official buildings.

The protesters and the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called a truce in their battling as a mark of respect for the monarch. The violence has killed five people and wounded at least 277 since last weekend.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said the truce would end Friday.

Onlookers wept as the king delivered his brief address with great effort in a weak, gravelly voice, pausing for long periods of time.

“Our country has long experienced happiness because we have been united in performing our duties and working together for the good of the whole country,” said the king, garbed in a ceremonial golden robe and sitting on a throne.

“All Thais should consider this very much and focus on doing their duties … which are the security and stability of the country,” he said.

The king’s appearance renewed concern about his health and whether he physically is able now to help heal the country’s divide.

As a constitutional monarch, he has no official political role, but no other person commands the same moral authority. In the past he has made high-profile interventions in situations in which the country seemed on the verge of violently splitting apart.

The many prominent people in attendance at Thursday’s speech — the privy councilor, the prime minister and Cabinet members, opposition leader and senior statesmen — looked somber and troubled by the king’s appearance.

“I think these people are quite worried, quite worried for the king, quite worried for the country,” said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a senior Thai historian.

The current standoff results from years of enmity between supporters and opponents of Ms. Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the king.

Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire, fled overseas to avoid a corruption conviction, but critics say he still controls Thai politics through his sister and his political machine.

The contending parties are likely to draw their own interpretations of the king’s speech, analysts said.

“It’s rather neutral, so whether it’s relevant to the present crisis depends on your interpretation,” Mr. Charnvit said.

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