One year after King Bhumibol’s death, Thais prepare for final goodbye

A Thai mourner poses for a photograph while paying respects in front of a portrait of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej close to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. (AP)
Updated 13 October 2017
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One year after King Bhumibol’s death, Thais prepare for final goodbye

BANGKOK: Monks led somber ceremonies across Thailand Friday to mark one year since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as the grieving nation prepares to bid a final farewell to the beloved monarch in a spectacular cremation ceremony this month.
Revered as a demi-god and loved as a “father” of all Thais, Bhumibol commanded deep devotion during his historic 70-year reign.
The past year has drawn out remarkable scenes of collective mourning across the kingdom, with many Thais expunging color from their wardrobes and donning only black and white for most of the year.
The solemn mood has deepened this October as many Thais grapple with having to say goodbye during his cremation on the 26th, an elaborate five-day event that will send Bhumibol’s spirit to the afterlife.
On Friday black-clad Thais streamed into temples, state agencies and the courtyard of the Bangkok hospital where Bhumibol died to give alms to Buddhist monks in honor of the monarch.
“I don’t want the cremation ceremony to take place, I just can’t cope with it,” 57-year-old Kanokporn Chavasith, one of hundreds of mourners gathering outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok Friday, said through tears.
Another tearful mourner, 61-year-old Chalita U-sap, told AFP: “I want him to stay with us forever.”
As the massive funeral draws nearer, TV channels have been ordered to reduce their color saturation, refrain from overly-joyous content and roll out documentaries highlighting the monarch’s good works.
Businesses have erected portraits and tributes to the king, while parks and pavements have been lined with marigolds — a flower associated with Bhumibol because of its yellow color.
The mourning has been encouraged and orchestrated by the ultra-royalist junta that seized power in 2014 as Bhumibol’s health was declining.
A severe royal defamation law, which has been vigorously enforced by the junta and landed critics decades in jail, makes it difficult to measure the role that social pressure plays in drawing out displays of devotion.
Frank discussion of the monarchy and its role in Thai politics is barred under the lese majeste law, which has embedded a culture of self-censorship across the arts, media and academia.
Bhumibol’s successor, his 65-year-old son King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is similarly shielded from criticism by the draconian legislation.
The new monarch has yet to attain his father’s level of popularity and has made moves to consolidate control over the palace bureaucracy and reduce government oversight during his first year on the throne.
Thailand’s crown has limited formal power but is one of the world’s richest and wields influence behind the scenes with the loyalty of much of the business and military elite.


Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

Updated 36 min 21 sec ago
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Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

  • Human Rights Watch warned of a wider humanitarian crisis if North Sinai continued to be cut off from the Egyptian mainland, saying the army’s actions “border on collective punishment.”
  • Air strikes and raids have killed scores of suspected militants, the military says, as it imposes curfews and tight movement restrictions around towns in North Sinai.

CAIRO: An Egyptian military campaign to defeat Daesh militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula is choking essential food and medical supplies to thousands of residents in the desert region, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. The army denied the charge.
The New York-based organization warned of a wider humanitarian crisis if North Sinai continued to be cut off from the Egyptian mainland, saying the army’s actions “border on collective punishment.”
The army launched an operation in February to crush militants who have waged an insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers, police and residents over many years.
Air strikes and raids have killed scores of suspected militants since then, the military says, as it imposes curfews and tight movement restrictions around towns in North Sinai. The army has said it is winning the battle.
A military spokesman denied there were shortages, saying it was providing food and medical support throughout the areas it operated in, The HRW report had used “undocumented sources” in its report, he said.
“Thousands of food parcels have been and are being provided to people in North Sinai,” Col. Tamer Al-Rifai, the spokesman, added.
International news outlets are prevented from traveling to North Sinai to report.
Residents said food supplies, medicine and fuel were insufficient and that movement restrictions meant most people were unable to leave the region, HRW reported.
“A counter-terrorism operation that imperils the flow of essential goods to hundreds of thousands of civilians is unlawful and unlikely to stem violence,” HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson said.
The report said authorities had banned the sale of petrol and cut communication lines, water and electricity in some areas of North Sinai including near the border with the Gaza Strip.
Residents told Reuters last month they often waited for hours for bread handouts which were not guaranteed to arrive.
Defeating the militants and restoring security after years of unrest that followed Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising has been a promise of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was re-elected in March in a landslide victory against no real opposition.
El-Sisi’s critics say he has presided over Egypt’s worst crackdown on dissent. Supporters say such measures are needed to bring stability and improve the country’s hard-hit economy.
In Sinai, analysts and foreign diplomats say heavy-handed military tactics including air strikes and demolitions of populated areas have failed to defeat the insurgency.