06/09/2006, 00.00
THAILAND
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Thailand celebrates King Bhumibol's 60 years on the throne

Thai King is the world's longest-serving monarch. He has gained lasting love because he has striven to improve the conditions of the people, especially in rural areas. Christians are celebrating the anniversary as well; in Thailand they are free to practice their faith.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Celebrations to mark King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 60 years on the throne began today. Speaking on live TV from the balcony of Ananta Samakom Palace, the king started the celebrations before at least half a million people gathered in the royal plaza.

The capital like most cities in the country is decked out all in yellow, the royal colour.

The government has decreed three days of celebrations: today and next Monday and Tuesday, each night ending in a display of fireworks.

Some 25,000 people in prison for minor crimes will be released and a gala dinner at the Royal Palace will see the royalty and nobility attend from 25 countries, including Japanese Emperor Akihito and Jordan's King Abdallah II

King Bhumibol is the world's longest-serving monarch. He is sincerely loved by his people for his work to improve the conditions of the population, especially in rural areas. He has also played an often determining role in sorting out many of the country's political crises. For most Thais he is the soul of the country.

Catholics have joined the celebrations as well. For Cardinal Michai the king guarantees stability and unity. He said that in Thailand Catholics are free to practice their faith and conduct religious activities without any fear of persecution.

Although a Buddhist, in accordance with the current constitution the king is also patron of all religions and the royal family has attended various Catholic functions.

On October 1 1960, King Bhumibol made a visit to the Vatican where he met John XXIII; he has also greeted Pope John Paul II during the Pontiff's apostolic visit to Thailand in 1984.

The king was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, in hospital room that was briefly declared Thai territory. He ascended to the throne in 1946 at the age of 19 at a time when the monarchy was in crisis and threatened with abolition. King Bhumibol's elder brother, who was the legitimate heir, died in unclear circumstances.

As head of state, King Bhumibol has few personal powers, but he has survived 17 coups and outlasted 20 prime ministers and 15 constitutions.

At the ripe old age of 78 he is showing signs of weariness, something that is worrying most Thais.

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