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Thais Honor Their King on Auspicious 60th Birthday

December 06, 1987|NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | Times Staff Writer

BANGKOK, Thailand — King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who in 41 years on the Thai throne has become the rock of stability in this sometimes turbulent country, celebrated his 60th birthday Saturday in a rare public audience in an open field near the Grand Palace.

The occasion was marked with pomp and probity, but among the more than 52 million Thais it was a joyous celebration. Tens of thousands, from the prime minister to street vendors, attended the formal rites, and millions more watched on television.

After receiving salutations from top government officials and his 35-year-old son and heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the king declared himself "pleased to be among the public" and called on the Thai people to work "creatively and cleverly" to achieve harmony in the society. The ceremonies closed with a 21-gun military salute.

At 7 p.m., after the king and his queen, Sirikit, had returned to the palace grounds, Thais in public ceremonies and in their homes lit candles to mark the birthday, an especially auspicious milestone by Asian tradition since it marked the completion of his fifth cycle, five times around the 12 animal signs of the Asian Zodiac. The king was born in the year of the rabbit.

The public audience capped a week of birthday celebrations and fireworks displays here in the capital, and earlier events had tied the occasion in with a yearlong tourist promotion in Thailand. A highlight in October was a procession on the Chao Phraya River of the gilded royal barges bearing the king as he presented robes to the Buddhist monks at a riverside temple.

Here in Bangkok on Saturday, police authorities called on club owners to close their doors in the city's seamy night-life district. Overnight, at a prominent intersection, someone with a sense of modesty had draped a length of red cloth over a large billboard featuring a bikini-clad woman.

King Bhumibol is the ninth in a dynasty of monarchs that has reigned in Bangkok since 1792. Next July, his reign will become the longest of any Thai monarch. The kings of his Chakri dynasty were absolute monarchs until 1932, when a constitutional government was established.

Since then, more than 15 coups or attempts and a Communist-led insurgency have shaken the government here. Bhumibol was not noticeably active in statecraft in his first decade on the throne, but with the encouragement of military strongmen, the monarchy developed influence in the 1960s.

In 1973, the king firmly established himself as a force for stability when student demonstrators drove a dictatorial military triumvirate from power. He appointed the first predominantly civilian government in 16 years.

Civilian rule lasted only three years, and the palace has played a less obvious role in politics since. But political analysts say that no subsequent coup has succeeded largely because the king indicated his opposition.

The king and the palace, which Thais obliquely call "the higher institution," reportedly have an active interest in the affairs of government but have played the role of referee, a point at which consensus can be reached.

Bhumibol, a slight, bespectacled man whose interests range from jazz to rural development, was born in Cambridge, Mass., where his father, Prince Mahidol of Songkhla, was studying medicine at Harvard University. The young prince was educated in Bangkok and abroad in Switzerland.

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