Thailand begins royal cremation for late King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Mourners in Thailand are marking the main part of the five-day funeral ceremony for the country's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The revered king died in October 2016 aged 88.

He will be cremated later on Thursday, in a royal pyre to be lit by his son and successor to the throne, King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The funeral officially started on Wednesday with a merit-making ceremony, a Buddhist rite, in the Grand Palace.

A series of Buddhist rites began in the royal palace on Thursday morning. Later, the royal urn will be moved onto a chariot and brought in a large procession to the site of the cremation.

Members of royal families and dignitaries from more than 40 countries will attend the cremation.

The late king's ashes will be collected and transported back to the palace on Friday. Two more days of ceremonies will follow.

Thursday has been declared a public holiday, with many businesses shut all day or closing at midday.

Huge crowds are already lining the streets ahead of the funeral procession.

The king was seen as a stabilising figure in a country hit by cycles of political turmoil and multiple coups.

Since his death on 13 October 2016, Thailand has observed a year of official mourning, with many people wearing black.

Preparations for this week's events took almost a year and have included setting up the large cremation complex near the palace.

The funeral site features sculptures of mythical creatures and auspicious animals such as lions and elephants.

According to Buddhist tradition, the funeral rituals are modelled after the universe and the cremation pyre represents a sacred mountain.

The elaborate ceremony is expected to draw as many as 250,000 people from across Thailand. Many of the mourners arrived in the capital days ago, camping in tents.

The funeral ceremonies come with strict guidelines for those attending. Thailand's lese-majeste law, which forbids any insult to the monarchy, is among the harshest in the world.


Photo caption: Thousands gather in the streets ahead of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's funeral, as Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports