- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

BANGKOK — Thailand’s king, the world longest-serving monarch, marked 60 years on the throne yesterday, calling for unity in his politically troubled country as hundreds of thousands of adoring Thais cheered and waved yellow flags.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 78, greeted his subjects in a glittering golden gown from the palace balcony in Bangkok, only the third such appearance of his royal career.

“Unity is a basis for all Thais to help preserve and bring prosperity to the country,” the king said in a five-minute speech. “If Thais uphold these ethics, it will ensure that Thailand will stand firmly.”

Booming cannons and a deafening roar from the crowd welcomed the king’s appearance. The monarch is beloved for his projects to help the rural poor and for using his moral influence to keep the country together through political turmoil.

Many Thais began gathering late Thursday, turning the roads near the Royal Plaza into a sea of yellow, the color symbolizing Monday, the day the king was born.

The people cried and held hands in reverence, chanting “long live the king,” as Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit waved goodbye from the balcony.

Thailand has declared a five-day public holiday for the festivities, which include fireworks, feasts and a river parade featuring dozens of gilded ceremonial boats. A royal banquet Tuesday closes the celebrations.

Heads of state and royalty from 25 countries, including Japan’s Emperor Akihito, Britain’s Prince Andrew and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, are expected to attend the culmination of celebrations next week.

Bhumibol was named king on June 9, 1946, after the death of his older brother. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended the throne in 1952, is the world’s second-longest serving monarch.

Thailand has been mired in a political crisis for months over corruption charges against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and demands that he resign. The country has been without a working legislature since the April 2 general elections were boycotted by the opposition and invalidated by the nation’s highest court.

Mr. Thaksin also addressed the crowd, praising the king for helping keep Thailand stable.

“The king has been a center of faith, a source of moral support and power for the nation, who has driven the country with perseverance, balance and good conscience,” Mr. Thaksin said.

Although the king is a constitutional monarch with limited powers, he has used his prestige to smooth over several political crises over the years, persuading opposing parties to compromise for the sake of peace and stability.

In April, Bhumibol urged the nation’s top courts to resolve the political deadlock that followed the inconclusive elections, prompting the court to annul the vote and paving the way for new balloting.

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