Tears in rain as Thais gather for late king’s funeral

The main edifice of the cremation site for Thailand’s late king Bhumibol Adulyadej is surrounded by a shallow pool. (AFP)
Updated 24 October 2017
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Tears in rain as Thais gather for late king’s funeral

BANGKOK: Sombre crowds began gathering to pay final respects to Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, braving a tropical downpour to camp out along the funeral procession route for a monarch who died last year and was revered by some as a demi-god.
The five-day Buddhist ceremony, which begins on Wednesday, has taken nearly a year to prepare and 3 billion baht ($90 million) has been set aside to pay for the funeral.
Arriving a day early to guarantee their place for a funeral that is expected to draw 250,000 people, mourners pitched flimsy tents in the middle of Bangkok’s old quarter to provide some protection from the torrential rain.
Hotels in the old town neighborhood have been booked up weeks in advance, and a national holiday has been declared for Oct. 26, the day of the cremation.
Although he was a constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been credited with reviving the prestige of the monarchy.
Aged 88 when he died, the king was viewed by many people a pillar of stability in the politically turbulent Southeast Asian country, where a military junta currently holds power.
The king’s cremation site, which features gold-tipped pavilions built for the occasion, is a stone’s throw from the Grand Palace, popular with foreign tourists.
Even though the funeral had yet to begin, many of the people gathering had tears in their eyes and were visibly emotional. Hunched beneath a makeshift tent made of cloth and string, Chalermporn Paebutr, a 72-year-old woman from northern Thailand, described her determination to bid farewell to a much-loved monarch.
“I traveled here two days ago so that I could be the first to get a good spot,” she told Reuters. “We only have to brave the rain for a few days. This is worth it if we can be near him one last time.”
Around 1,000 people had camped overnight in the downpour, police said on Tuesday. Some only had their plastic raincoats for protection.
Thailand has suffered floods since Oct. 10. Nine people have died, and 19 of the country’s 77 provinces have been hit affected.
“The floods will not affect the cremation ceremony in any way,” interior minister Anupong Paochinda told reporters.
New King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the late king’s only son, will lead the cremation ceremony.
Thailand has a harsh law, known as Article 112, against insulting the monarchy, and prosecutions have skyrocketed since the junta came to power following a coup in 2014.
The United Nations has voiced concern over the use of the law to clamp down on free speech and has repeatedly called on Thailand to amend it.


South Sudan foes in new peace talks to end deadly war

Updated 25 June 2018
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South Sudan foes in new peace talks to end deadly war

  • A first round brokered by Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa on Thursday failed to achieve any breakthrough
  • The war has killed tens of thousands of people and driven about four million others from their homes

KHARTOUM: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and arch-foe Riek Machar were set to hold a new round of peace talks Monday after a first meeting last week faltered.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is hosting in Khartoum the second round of talks between the two bitter rivals, aimed at ending South Sudan’s four-and-a-half year brutal civil war.
A first round brokered by Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa on Thursday failed to achieve any breakthrough.
Regional East African leaders have launched new efforts to secure peace in South Sudan where warring factions face a looming deadline to avert UN sanctions.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and driven about four million others from their homes.
It erupted after Kiir fell out with his then deputy Machar in December 2013, dashing the optimism that accompanied independence of South Sudan just two years earlier from Sudan.
“In this round of talks we are looking for a breakthrough to this thorny issue,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed told reporters on Sunday.
Kiir and Machar’s meeting in Addis Ababa was their first face-to-face encounter in nearly two years.
Their meeting in Khartoum will be the first since fighting erupted in South Sudan.
It comes after South Sudan’s government declared that it “had enough” of Machar, dashing hopes of any breakthrough at the Addis Ababa talks.
“As the people of South Sudan, not the president alone, but as the people of South Sudan, we are saying enough is enough,” South Sudanese government spokesman Michael Makuei said Friday.
Makuei rejected Machar’s presence in any transitional government but did not rule out the involvement of other rebel figures.
His remarks show the personal enmity between Kiir and Machar, that lies at the heart of the conflict, is as strong as ever.
Before the start of talks in Ethiopia, Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group had also dismissed the latest peace efforts as “unrealistic.”
South Sudan descended into civil war after Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup against him, sparking violence between the two factions that was fueled by brooding ethnic tensions.
Since a 2015 peace deal collapsed in July 2016 with Machar fleeing to South Africa, Kiir’s government has gained the upper hand militarily as the opposition has splintered into a myriad of factions.
Initially largely fought out between South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups — Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer — smaller groups have since spawned their own militias raising question marks about the ability of either leader to halt the war.
In May, the UN Security Council gave the two warring sides a month to reach a peace deal or face sanctions.
A landlocked state with a large ethnic mix, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and brutal war.