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Thailand awaits new king

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – The head of Thailand’s royal advisory council will stand in as regent while the country grieves over the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and awaits for his son to formally succeed him, the government said.

Mourners lit candles and recited prayers before dawn on Saturday outside Bangkok’s riverside Grand Palace, where the remains of the king will lie for months before a traditional royal cremation, and thousands joined them during the morning.

The world’s longest-reigning monarch, King Bhumibol died on Thursday in a Bangkok hospital, at the age of 88.

The government has said Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn wants to grieve with the people and leave the formal succession until later, when parliament will invite him to ascend the throne.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said in an interview broadcast on state television late on Friday that there was no uncertainty about the succession but, in the interim, the head of the powerful Privy Council would have to step in as regent.

“There must be a regent for the time being in order not to create a gap,” Wissanu said.

“This situation will not be used for long,” he added, without mentioning by name Privy Council head 96-year-old Prem Tinsulanonda, a former army chief and prime minister.

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.

The king’s remains were taken in a convoy on Friday through Bangkok’s ancient quarter to the Grand Palace, winding past thousands of Thais dressed in black, many of them holding aloft portraits of a monarch who was revered as a father figure.

The king had been in poor health the past several years and his death plunged the Southeast Asian nation of 67 million people into grief.

Most Thais have known no other monarch and King Bhumibol’s picture is hung in almost every house, school and office.

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