June 8, 2006

Thais begin celebrations of royal anniversary

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Yellow-clad Thais in their millions
began jubilant celebrations on Friday to mark revered King
Bhumibol Aduljadej's 60 years on the throne, putting a deep
political crisis on hold.

Tens of thousands headed to Bangkok's Royal Plaza to see
their beloved monarch, the world's longest reigning king, in
person, dwarfing the number of protesters gathered there three
months ago calling for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to

"Certainly, he's such an important figure in Thai people's
lives," said U.S.-born Bangkok-based consultant John Crane,
sporting a yellow bracelet to mark the festivities.

"At all levels of society there is huge respect for the
king, stemming from his own personal example."

The king will kick off the five-day celebrations with a
nationally televised appearance at the Royal Plaza, where huge
crowds camped under umbrellas to protect them from the hot
morning sun.

The festivities include a gala dinner attended by royalty
from 25 nations, a spectacular royal barge procession manned by
up to 2,500 navy officers and the release of 25,000 prisoners
serving jail time for petty crimes.

Thais are not missing out on the opportunity to party. Tens
of thousands are expected to watch fireworks marking the
celebration on Friday night.

And almost all are wearing shirts in yellow, the color of
the king's birth day, Monday, depleting stores of their stocks
and sparking rocketing prices for the sunny-hued garments.

"I ordered ahead of time," said graphic designer Jit
Wongsa, 25, wearing his hard-won yellow polo shirt with the
royal insignia. "It's so expensive otherwise."


But reverence for the quiet-spoken, bespectacled monarch
may be the only sentiment many Thais currently share.

"There are a lot of unsolved and unresolved issues in the
political arena and this temporary truce should not be taken as
an indication that things have quietened down," said consultant
Christopher Bruton of Bangkok-based Dataconsult.

After months of street protests calling for his head,
Thaksin called a snap poll in April, which was boycotted by the
main opposition. The election failed to return a valid
parliament and was later declared unlawful.

The intense bickering faded as the royal anniversary
neared, every politician wary of acting inappropriately and
losing support. It will crank up again once the celebrations
are over.

But on Friday, as Thais prepared for a four-day holiday
weekend, trade on the stock market slowed to a trickle.

"The square root of nada is being traded on this market,"
said one foreign trader, using the Spanish word for nothing as
he watched golf on television during the morning session.

(Additional reporting by Darren Schuettler, Tanny Chia and
Chawadee Nualkhair)