Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was one of the first world leaders to pay tribute to Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose death was announced late Thursday.
As weeping mourners massed outside the Bangkok hospital where the king died, Abe issued a statement praising the king’s achievements during his 70 years on the throne, a period that saw millions lifted out of poverty.
“As a spiritual support for the people, his majesty has led Thailand’s remarkable development and advancement of the people’s living standards,” Abe said.
On Friday, Abe visited the Thai Embassy in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo. He bowed before a portrait of the king and signed a book of condolences.
Throughout the day, Thais streamed to the embassy in the hundreds. They spoke of grief and a sense of oneness, expressing also the end of a chapter in their nation’s history.
Some had tears in their eyes as they sat at a table and wrote tributes in two books left open for well-wishers.
“I feel very sad. We’ve known him since we were born. He was very special to all of us in Thailand,” said a 47-year-old Thai doctor who works for a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo.
“You could never explain how much he has done for us — a lot more than you might expect from any other king in the world,” he said. “He was a very extraordinary being. I don’t even want to say he is just a man. He is very special.”
Thai housewife Paweena Singhapreecha, 35, said she sees the king as “the father” of all people in Thailand.
“Thailand became what it is today because of him,” she said. “He knew about every part of Thailand. He always knew when we had a problem. He tried to help when we had floods, when we had fighting. … He was always there, worried about us.”
The king was known as a tireless sponsor of development work. He was regularly photographed visiting rice paddies and infrastructure projects.
Although beset by political tension punctuated by military coups, Thailand under King Bhumibol saw tens of millions of people lifted from the depths of poverty, a record that national leaders worldwide noted in their tributes.
China’s Foreign Ministry said the king made “remarkable contributions” to Thailand’s development.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called him “a major figure in modern Asian history.”
“Under his reign, Thailand’s population grew from just under 20 million to over 67 million and of course the strides in economic and social development have been enormous,” Turnbull said.
Paying tribute from Jakarta, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo noted that many Thais felt the king had their interests close to his heart.
“The world has lost a leader who was close to the people, a carrier of peace and unity and prosperity for the people of Thailand,” Jokowi said.
Late Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council stood in a silent tribute to the king’s life and legacy.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the king a unifying figure. “I hope that Thailand will continue to honor King Bhumibol’s legacy of commitment to universal values and respect for human rights,” he said.
The king’s death leaves Thailand in the hands of a military regime that has firmed up its control of state bodies.
On Friday in Bangkok, crowds of mourners in black thronged the streets as the state prepared to enter weeks, if not months, of official mourning. Monks were expected to spend at least the next 100 days chanting.
The government quoted Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn as urging national unity. Although he had been expected to take the throne immediately, the prince made a surprise request for the process.
Meanwhile, TV networks continued broadcasting material paying tribute to the king and his legacy, but color was restored a day after all output was switched to a somber black and white to be delayed.
Information from AP, AFP-JIJI added
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