BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand put politics aside Thursday to celebrate the 86th birthday of the country's revered monarch, who used his annual birthday speech to call for stability but made no direct reference to the crisis that has deeply divided the nation.
Violence and street battles between anti-government protesters and police were put on hold as both sides observed a truce to mark the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has often served as a unifying figure in times of crisis.
Vast crowds dressed in the royal color of yellow lined the roads in the seaside town of Hua Hin, to catch a glimpse of the frail and aging monarch. Many shouted "Long live the king" as his motorcade drove slowly to Klai Kangwon Palace, which literally means "Far From Worries."
Onlookers wept as the king began to speak, taking great effort and pausing for long stretches between words.
"Our country has long experienced happiness because we have been united in performing our duties and working together for the good of the whole country," the king said, dressed in a ceremonial golden robe and seated on a throne before an audience that included Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Cabinet ministers, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and the leaders of the armed forces.
"All Thais should consider this very much and focus on doing their duties ... which are the security and stability of the country."
Many people were hopeful the king would step in — as he has done before — to ease the current standoff, which results from years of enmity between supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was deposed by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the king.
As a constitutional monarch, the king has no official political role, but no other figure commands the same moral authority or the same loyalty from the armed forces in the coup-prone country.
The king is a less vigorous figure than he used to be. In July, he ended a nearly four-year hospital stay — initially for treatment of a lung infection — to live in a palace in the seaside town of Hua Hin.
Political street fighting that had wracked pockets of Bangkok since the weekend ended Tuesday ahead of the birthday celebrations. The protesters are seeking to bring down the government of Yingluck, who is Thaksin's sister, and institute an unelected "people's council" to administer the country.
Before the break for the king's birthday, earlier violence killed five people and wounded at least 277 since the weekend.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has vowed to keep up the struggle, saying that "our battle" will resume Friday.