By Max Constant
BANGKOK (AA) -Thailand celebrated the 70th anniversary of its revered king's accession to the throne with religious ceremonies and exhibitions Thursday, with the declining health of the 88-year-old monarch continuing to provoke anxiety amongst the population -- a vast majority of which was born under his reign.
Early morning, ruling junta members, including Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and members of his military government lined in front of Bangkok Grand Palace clad in yellow clothes -- the symbolic color of King Bhumibol Adulyadej -- to offer food to hundreds of Buddhist monks as a merit-making gesture.
A large number of events were also organized to celebrate the anniversary. A special 16,000 baht ($450) commemorative coin was issued by the Bank of Thailand and 89 young Thai men were ordained as Buddhist monks in honor of the king.
Photo exhibitions were also held in department stores and a major ceremony was planned for the evening on the Royal Plaza in front of the Grand Palace.
Those attending were quick to applaud their king.
“It is a very important day for Thailand. You can see that he holds the hearts of most of the Thai people. He gave all his heart and soul and body, just for the well-being of our country,” Surina Worboys, told Anadolu Agency while visiting a major exhibition about the king’s achievements in a Bangkok Department store.
Another ardent fan, Rasmee Ratchowathi, had traveled from Hat Yai, a major city in southern Thailand, to pay her respects.
“He has done so many things for the country, much more than any king in any other country from my viewpoint. That is why Thai people love him so much,” Ratchowathi -- wearing a bright yellow polo -- told Anadolu Agency.
“He has initiated and managed many projects, from protecting water sources and forests to developing sustainable agriculture. He is never resting,” she added.
World leaders also sent messages to congratulate Adulyadej on the 70th anniversary of his accession, among them United States President Barack Obama.
“On behalf of the American people, I send my heartfelt congratulations to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the people of the Kingdom of Thailand as they celebrate the 70th anniversary of the king’s accession to the throne,” wrote Obama in a message Thursday.
“His Majesty has served as a source of strength and inspiration for many in our two countries over the past seven decades," he added.
Bhumibol’s 70th anniversary took place with the king's health a matter of deep concern for many Thais.
The king, who is suffering from a range of ailments, from regular lung infections to spinal cord problems, has been mostly hospitalized in Bangkok's Siriraj hospital since 2009.
His latest health bulletin -- released by the Royal Palace May 20 -- says doctors operated on the king “to remove excess fluid which was putting pressure on the brain.”
The bulletin described the result as “satisfactory” and said he was recovering well.
According to the 1924 succession law, the successor will be Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, the 63-year-old only son of the king.
Vajiralongkorn, whose private life has been subject to debate, albeit in closed circles because of Thailand’s harsh lese-majeste law, is much less popular than his father.
After the king’s passing, analysts foresee an unavoidable decline in the prestige of the monarchic institution which had been quasi-resurrected by King Bhumibol from the end of the 1950s, when military dictator Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat understood that he could utilize a revival of the monarchy for personal benefit.
From that moment on, the king -- accompanied by his queen -- crisscrossed the country's rural areas, putting himself in direct contact with the country's most deprived.
The king launched numerous projects, from helping ethnic minorities in the mountainous areas of the north, to encouraging a switch from opium growing to coffee, to medical endeavors such as sponsoring the fight to rid the world of chronic diseases, such as leprosy and polio.
Analysts say privately that the decline in the king's health is one of the reasons why the military are trying to maintain their role at the helm of the country, after overthrowing the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in a May 2014 coup.
The military, they claim, is simply trying to maintain control of the country during the delicate period during which a new monarch will emerge.