Rabu, 02 Januari 2008

Thailand mourns death of king's sister (AFP)

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand on Wednesday mourned Princess Galyani, only sister of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose death from cancer also put a temporary halt to post-election coalition haggling.

Thousands of Thais flocked to Bangkoks Siriraj Hospital where the kings elder sister died in the early hours of Wednesday after battling abdominal cancer for about six months.

Many of them were wearing black and clutching pictures of the princess, while Thai television stations interrupted their regular programming to report her death with footage showing her life. All newscasters wore black.

"I feel very sad. She did a lot of things for our country," said Chotinart Arunlert, a 71-year-old housewife in Bangkok. Chotinart said she had been at the hospital since 5:00 am to pay her respects to the princess.

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.

Her death prompted two political parties to postpone their announcement on joining a coalition government led by allies of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The pro-Thaksin People Power Party won 233 of the 480 parliament seats up for grabs in the December 23 poll, the first since last years coup ousting Thaksin.

PPP has announced a coalition with three minor outfits which would give them a slim majority of 254, and has been wooing Chart Thai and Puea Pandin in a bid to strengthen their coalition.

Army-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont also 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 interior ministry also asked entertainment businesses including bars and karaoke lounges to "refrain from entertainment activities" for 15 days, a government official said without elaborating.

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.

Her body is expected to be taken from the hospital to the Grand Palace where thousands of Thais were gathering to mourn her death.

"I am deeply saddened by her death. I wanted to come here to pay my last respects to her. I love her so much," Noi Keshussien, an elderly woman, told Channel Nine in front of the palace.

The 80-year-old king spent nearly four weeks in the same hospital in October-November last year after experiencing weakness in the right side of his body.

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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