Thousands of Thais bid farewell to princess

BANGKOK, Nov 15, 2008 (AFP) -- More than 100,000 Thais paid their last respects to the sister of the world's longest reigning king at a lavish funeral Saturday, in a brief respite from the political crisis gripping the country.

Saffron-robed Buddhist monks chanted as revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej lit a golden, purpose-built pyre for his elder sister Princess Galyani, who died of cancer in January at the age of 84.

This handout picture released by the Royal Bureau shows Thai King Bhumibol Adulayadej (L) and Queen Sirikit praying during the Buddhist ceremony of the funeral of Princess Galyani in Bangkok on Nov. 14. (AFP PHOTO)

Earlier a procession of more than 2,000 crimson-clad soldiers, flanked by conch shell-blowers and drummers, pulled a historic teak chariot carrying Galyani's remains through the streets of Bangkok.

In a mark of the almost divine respect with which the monarchy is held here, Thailand's feuding political factions sat together in ceremonial dress for the 8.9-million-dollar funeral despite months of often violent protests.

Ordinary Thais dressed in sombre black clothes lined the streets of the capital, bowing their heads and pressing their hands together in a traditional gesture of respect as the late princess's chariot passed.

"I slept here last night because I was afraid I would not get a good place. But it was worth coming here to see our princess," Somporn Nakhao, 36, from the southern province of Champhon, told AFP.

Senior police commander Colonel Rangsan Praditphol said there were "more than 100,000 people" massed for the ceremony, the second and biggest day of a six-day set of funeral rituals.

Ancient Thai music wailed as the urn carrying the princess's body left the royal throne hall, where she lay in state for 10 months, and was carried atop the 14-tonne chariot accompanied by troops, courtiers and royal umbrellas.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and embattled Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat took part in the procession wearing white ceremonial dress. Cannons boomed at one-minute intervals throughout the solemn march.

The carriage finally arrived at the pyre -- the most spectacular of dozens of temporary funeral buildings at the site -- a 39-metre (128-foot) tower modeled on Mount Meru, a mythical Buddhist site said to be at the centre of the universe.

King Bhumibol then arrived for the cremation service itself, lighting a symbolic public pyre in a live television broadcast. The princess' body was later cremated in an electric incinerator and smoke could be seen billowing from the chimney.

Masked dancers and acrobats then performed a ceremonial pantomime to mark the event.

After the cremation, the funeral buildings will be torn down because they are reminders of the death of a beloved royal. It is the first royal funeral in Thailand since that of the king's mother in 1996.

Source: AFP

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