King Bhumibol dies at age 88

The monarch died at 15:52 local time. For three days his condition was "unstable." He suffered from difficulty breathing, kidney and liver problems. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha rushes back to Bangkok, where he met with Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. Citizens in mourning. Bhumibol was the longest reigning monarch in the world (70 years).

Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88, died at 15:52 (local time) in Siriraj hospital in Bangkok. The royal palace issued a communiqué, declaring that the monarch died in peace, and that all family members were present at his bedside.

The king, the ninth of the Chakri dynasty, would have turned 89 next December 5th. Millions of Thai were anxious about his health. October 9 last October 9 last, a palace note announced that King "is still unstable" and that he has been attached to an artificial respirator: "Blood tests  - said the message - show that he has an infection and that his liver is not functioning properly". Premier Prayu Chan-o-cha has canceled events scheduled for today and hurried back to Bangkok. The parliament met in an extraordinary session.

King Bhumibol, 88, celebrated 70 years of his reign last June, which made him at the time, the longest-reigning monarch in the world. He is the symbol of unity of Thailand, guarantor of the Constitution, the political arbiter and protector of all religions. Bhumibol has not appeared in public for more than a year and in recent months has suffered from respiratory problems, kidney dysfunctions, hydrocephalus and heart problems.

At news of the deterioration of the king’s health, the Bangkok stock exchange dropped almost  7% and the Bhat (national currency) lost against the dollar.

Bhumibol was the most beloved figure by the Thais, most of whom have lived all my life under his rule. For days, millions of Thai have opted to dress only in pink clothes, hoping to bring good luck to the ruler’s health. Suwanna Kaennumtiang, a 62 year old woman, was among the many people gathered outside the hospital where Bhumibol was admitted: "The king is very important for us - she had said - because he has done everything for  his people". Holding a portrait of him in his hand, she adds: "He's like my angel, I pray every day to this photo."

The king's death reopens the question of his succession. Prince Vajiralongkorn, 63, is first in line of succession.

To protect the cult of the person of the king, Thailand has some of the toughest laws of lese majesty in the world with sentences of up to 15 years in prison. However, critics say they have been exploited in recent months by the military junta in power to repress dissent and rule with an iron grip over the country.