Thai king urges mutual support in birthday speech

The BBC's Jonathan Head said it was unlikely anyone believed the king "could resolve the very deep conflict"

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King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand has urged people to support each other for the sake of the country, in his address to the nation on his birthday.

Thailand is marking the 86th birthday of the revered king amid a truce after days of violent protests in Bangkok.

Speaking at his palace in the coastal resort of Hua Hin, the king said that Thailand had been peaceful because of the unity of the people.

There were violent clashes earlier in the week between police and protesters.

The demonstrators, who are demanding that the current government resign, began protesting on 24 November.

They agreed to stop their attacks on government buildings for the birthday celebrations, but have said they will be back right after them.

Thai monks receive alms from anti-government protesters in front of a giant portrait of Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 5 December 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand There was a lull in anti-government protests in Bangkok as the king turned 86
Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej (L) and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (R) arrive in a van at Klai Kangwon Palace, Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan province, 5 December 2013 The Thais highly revere King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who now lives in Hua Hin
Well-wishers hold pictures of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and wave Thai national flags as they gather to celebrate his 86th birthday near Klai Kangwon Palace, Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan province, 5 December 2013 People came out in the streets to wish the king well
Pause in unrest

On Thursday, thousands of people had headed to the town of Hua Hin, near the king's Klai Kangwon palace, in the hope of seeing him, the Bangkok Post reports.

Analysis

His name means "strength of the land, incomparable power", his title, "Lord Above Our Heads". The elevated position of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, above the political fray, at the apex of an intensely hierarchical society, makes him in the minds of millions of Thais a repository of virtue and calm when all around they see greed and chaos. So it is essential for the monarchy that his birthday, his biggest public appearance of the year, passes smoothly, without the slightest disruption.

That is why so much effort went into negotiating an end to the protests which have turned parts of Bangkok into a battleground over the past two weeks.

The main ceremony, though, had to be held for the first time outside the capital, in Hua Hin, the seaside resort where King Bhumibol moved from hospital in August.

The highlight for the thousands lining his processional route was a glimpse of the man they simply call "Father" as his motorcade moved slowly past. They were on their knees, waving yellow royal flags, some in tears.

In the past they have looked to his speech for guiding wisdom. But at 86 years old, and very frail, he struggled to get through a short address, which urged Thais to do their duty, and support each other. It sounded like a plea, to end the country's deep political conflict. And the protesters, who are largely ultra-royalists, will say they have taken his words to heart. But once this celebration is over, they have promised to be back on the streets.

Special bus and train services had been laid on by the transport ministry to bring people to the town, the paper says.

The king traditionally delivers a speech to the nation on his birthday - an audience keenly anticipated for any hints of his thinking on events in Thailand.

He called on people to do their duty to support each other for the sake of the country.

"All Thais should realise this point a lot and behave and perform our duties accordingly, our duty for the sake of the public, for stability, security for our nation of Thailand," the king said.

The current wave of protests began in Bangkok relatively peacefully, but things took a violent turn over the weekend and on Monday.

Protesters tried to topple police barricades and storm the prime minister's office, Government House. Clashes broke as police used tear gas and water cannon to repel them.

The situation calmed down on Tuesday after security forces stepped back from protesters.

Some anti-government protesters headed to the police headquarters in Bangkok on Wednesday. A few hundred of the protesters were allowed inside the compound by the police and then withdrew.

The protesters say there is more to come. "After the king's birthday, we will start fighting again until we achieve our goal," former deputy prime minister and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told AFP on Tuesday.

The protesters want the current government under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down and be replaced by an unelected "People's Council".

They allege that her government is controlled by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is in self-imposed exile after he was overthrown in a military army coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption.

At least four people have died since Saturday, in what has been Thailand's worst political turmoil since the 2010 rallies that ended in violence.

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