10/26/2017, 15.36
THAILAND
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Bangkok, the country stops for the cremation of King Bhumibol (Video)

The funeral service, which began yesterday, will end on 29 October. Preparations took nearly a year of work with the government allocating almost US$ 90 million to honour the "Father of the Nation". At the imposing funeral site participants had to follow a strict code of conduct. The Thai Church is participating in the event throughout the country.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Some 250,000 people poured into the heart of Bangkok for a final tribute to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died just over a year ago.

Today's ceremonies, which culminated in the evening cremation of the monarch's remains, marked the most solemn moment in the five-day funeral, which began yesterday with religious services.

Dressed in black under the tropical sun, the king’s subjects unable to get inside the Sanam Luang, site of the royal cremation ground, waited for two days on the sidewalks of the streets next to the Grand Palace, sharing food and swapping stories about the old king, who died on 13 October 2016 at the age of 88.

This morning, the heir to the throne King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkunha led the merit-making ceremony in the Dusit Maha Prasad Throne Hall, starting the solemn royal procession (picture 1) in preparation for moving the Royal Urn to the Royal Crematorium at the Sanam Luang (video).

In the presence of several royal families and dignitaries from more than 40 countries around the world, the cremation took place tonight when king Maha Vajiralongkorn lit the royal pyre.

Preparations for this week's events took almost a year and Thailand’s military government allocated almost US$ 90 million to honour the ‘Father of the nation’.

The funeral site features sculptures of mythical creatures and auspicious animals such as lions and elephants

According to Buddhist tradition, the funeral service is modelled after the universe and the 50-metre royal pyre represents Mount Meru, the centre of the world.

Around the country, 85 replicas of the complex have been built and many television screens have been set up to allow everyone to share the event.

The funeral ceremony comes with strict guidelines for those attending. Photographers cannot take pictures of the king, whilst journalists must shave off their beard and moustache.

Thailand's lese-majesté law, which forbids any insult to the monarchy, is among the harshest in the world.

The streets in Bangkok's historic central district were closed for the day, and tourists have been invited to dress and behave "respectfully". Shops were also closed and the city's night life has been toned down for the funeral period until 29 October.

King Bhumibol was the longest reigning monarch in the world. Since his death on 13 October 2016, there have been massive public displays of grief and many Thais chose to wear black for the duration of the mourning period, a whole year. Very popular with the people, he was the symbol of national unity and protector of all religions.

King Bhumibol came to the throne in 1946 at a time when the royal influence was failing. At the end of his 70-year reign, however, the influence and prestige of the monarchy has grown significantly.

Through projects to support rural areas, he left a deep impression among Thais of various generations. During his reign, the Thai monarchy has become one of the richest in the world, with the Crown Property Bureau holding important quotas in the country’s major businesses.

The Catholic Church of Thailand has participated with zeal to the royal funeral in a country where 95 per cent of the 68 million inhabitants are Buddhist with only 300,000 Catholics.

Mgr Giambattista Diquattro, apostolic nuncio to India and Nepal, attended the cremation ceremony as the representative of the Holy See.

Mgr Paul Tschang In-Nam, apostolic nuncio to Thailand, was also present as a member of the diplomatic corps, whilst Card François-Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, archbishop of Bangkok, was invited by the Thai government.

Archbishop Vissanou Thanya-Anan, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand, called on the faithful to pay tribute to the late monarch.

"We ask all Catholics to place flowers in the crematorium replicas closest to their homes and go as groups accompanied by sisters and priests,” he said. “This will show Thais of other faiths that Christians are united with the whole country in this tribute to the king."

In addition to the ceremonies in memory of King Bhumibol, Thai bishops have organised a number of initiatives and events.

At 5.30 pm today, in conjunction with cremation, churches rang their bells to show the Catholic community united with the people of Thailand on this solemn occasion.

Several Catholic priests, men religious and nuns have visited Buddhist temples, warmly welcomed by monks, like at the Wat Ianna Wa Temple in Bangkok (picture 2).

Throughout the country, long lines have formed outside places of worship (picture 3) of people who want to pray and leave offerings in memory of the late monarch.

Such queues have forced the faithful to wait for up to four hours, made bearable by the work of volunteers offering them food, water, and assistance.

In a sign of friendship, the monks of Hualampong Temple entrusted this service to a group of Saint Paul de Chartres nuns, one of the earliest Catholic religious orders present in Thailand.

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