Thailand to tackle 'false' foreign media reports after king's death

October 20, 2016 8:45 AM EDT

Buddhist monks walk past a portrait of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej outside Bangkok City Hall, Thailand, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom


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By Thanarith Satrusayang

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand said on Thursday it would inform the world about the royal succession following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej after "false" foreign media coverage created misunderstanding and hurt the feelings of its people.

The death of the revered king a week ago after seven decades on the throne plunged the country into mourning and heightened sensitivity about the monarchy.

The government has said Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will succeed his father soon, after an unspecified period of mourning.

The prince's formal coronation will take place after the king's cremation, following a year-long official mourning period. The 96-year-old president of the royal Privy Council, Prem Tinsulanonda, has been made regent during the interregnum.

The delay in the prince becoming king has raised speculation among Thailand scholars and analysts that the succession may not be as smooth as the government has said it will be.

The prince has made no public statement since the death of his father but he has paid homage every day at Bangkok's gilded Grand Palace where the late king is lying in state.

The Foreign Ministry did not refer to specific news reports or outlets, but said coverage had created misunderstanding and it wanted to "prevent further false coverage".

"We have instructed our ambassadors, consulates and representatives around the world to inform relevant state agencies and governments regarding the succession and that it is proceeding according to the constitution and royal laws and traditions," it said.

Insulting the monarch, the regent or the heir, known by the French-language term "lese-majeste", is a crime in Thailand that carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years for each offense.

King Bhumibol, who was the world's longest-reigning monarch, was revered as a father figure and symbol of unity in a country riven by political crises over the years, most recently by a struggle between the military-led establishment and populist political forces. Many Thais worry about a future without him.

People are dressing in black around the country, and huge numbers have streamed to the Grand Palace to pay their respects.

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Government spokesman Weerachon Sukondhapatipak called for an end to foreign media speculation "because everything is already quite clear".

"Please don't use your imagination to report stories without thinking," he told Reuters.

Prince Vajiralongkorn does not enjoy the same adoration his father earned over a lifetime on the throne. He has married and divorced three times, and has spent much of his life outside Thailand, often in Germany.

Though the king designated his only son crown prince in 1972, shortly afterwards he also raised the possibility of the eligibility of a princess becoming the monarch.

The junta has stepped up prosecution of lese-majeste cases since the king died, with police investigating 12 cases.

Some angry mourners have attacked people they deemed disrespectful but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha urged people not to take matters into their own hands.

"The prime minister has a good understanding of the feelings of people who are completely loyal to the monarchy. Everyone should be reminded not to drag the institution down into various conflicts and disagreements," government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters.

Though the country is in mourning, shopping malls, markets, cinemas and even some bars have been open.

The government said overseas tourism would not be affected and industry targets were unchanged.

"We are confident that we will still hit the mark we set of 32 million overseas tourists," a deputy prime minister, Tanasak Patimapragorn, told reporters.

Department of Tourism data showed foreign arrivals at Thailand's five main airports fell by 2.59 percent in the week after the king died compared with the previous week.

(Reporting by Cod Satrusayang, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Pracha Hariraksapitak and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Robert Birsel and John Chalmers)



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