Selasa, 01 Januari 2008

Thai king's sister dies: royal household (AFP)

BANGKOK (AFP) - The only sister of Thailands revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on Wednesday at the age of 84, the royal household said.

Princess Galyani "passed away at 2:54 am (1954 GMT) on January 2, 2008," the household said in a statement. The kings elder sister had been undergoing treatment for abdominal cancer at Bangkoks Siriraj Hospital since June last year.

Nearly 1,000 Thais rushed to the hospital on hearing the news, police said. Many of them were wearing black and clutching pictures of the princess, while television footage showed a sobbing elderly woman knelt in front of her portrait.

The king, who was close to his sister and visited her in hospital almost daily, declared a 100-day mourning period among royal family members and royal court officials.

Thai television stations interrupted their regular programming to announce the death of the princess and show footage of her life, with newscasters wearing black.

Princess Galyani, who for much of her life taught French language and literature in universities, was awarded the Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, Frances highest civilian distinction, in late December.

She began her academic career as a professor of French at Bangkoks Chulalongkorn University, the kingdoms most prestigious academic institution.

After a 10-year break from teaching, she took over as head of the French department at Thammasat University in 1969 and later headed the Association of French Professors in Thailand, working to promote the French language.

Later in life, the princess devoted her energies to rural development and education, particularly in Thailands impoverished northeast.

She also chaired several charities, including the Kidney Foundation, and helped secure funding for the construction of rural schools.

She married twice and had one daughter.

Thailands army-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont announced a 15-day mourning period for government officials and state enterprise workers, and flags at all public buildings will be flown at half mast for 15 days.

The death of the princess also prompted two Thai political parties to cancel their planned news conference later in the day, party officials said.

Chart Thai and Puea Pandin had been due to announce they were joining a coalition government led by the party backing ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The 80-year-old king was taken to the same hospital in October last year after experiencing weakness on the right side of his body.

When he left hospital in early November, cheering crowds of well-wishers shouted "Long live the king."

On December 5, hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets around Bangkoks glittering Grand Palace to celebrate the kings 80th birthday.

King Bhumibol, the worlds longest-reigning monarch, is treated with an almost religious devotion in Thailand and his health is a subject of great national concern.

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