October 12, 2016 - 5:28 AM
BANGKOK - Thailand's stock market and currency tumbled and the prime minister cancelled an overseas trip Wednesday amid concerns about long-ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej's health.
His son, the crown prince, returned home from Germany, as Thais in pink shirts — a colour associated with the king — gathered outside Siriraj hospital in Bangkok, which has been his home for much of the last decade.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand's benchmark fell nearly 7 per cent in afternoon trading before recovering somewhat for a 4.1 per cent loss for the day. Thai stocks have slid daily since Sunday, when the royal palace announced that the 88-year-old Bhumibol's condition was unstable, the first time it has used that phrase regarding the king's health.
Also Wednesday, the Thai baht fell 1.1 per cent to end at 35.76 to a dollar.
The highly revered Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, has suffered from a variety of ailments related to old age, including kidney and lung problems.
Dozens of Thais holding incense sticks and images of the king chanted prayers outside the hospital for his recovery.
"The king is the heart of our country. So, without a heart, we cannot survive. So we pray for our heart, for the heart of our land," said Donnapha Kladbupha, a 42-year-old English tutor. "I want to see him come and say hello to the Thai people again."
Last week, doctors performed a hemodialysis to purify his blood. They also replaced a tube that drains excess cerebrospinal fluid.
Because Bhumibol has been king since 1946, there is great concern about the eventual succession. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has not earned the same respect as his father.
Vajiralongkorn lives mostly in Germany, and flew back to Bangkok. The government's top bureaucrat, Secretary-General Wilas Aroonsri, said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha went to the airport to receive him. Prayuth was supposed to fly to Laos on an official visit but cancelled it in the morning.
The royal palace has not issued any statements on the king's condition Wednesday.
Bhumibol, a constitutional monarch with no formal political role, is widely regarded as Thailand's unifying figure. However, as his health has deteriorated, his participation in public affairs has sharply declined in recent years.
Concern about succession has been entwined with Thailand's political turmoil in the past decade, as royalists have sought to ensure that they control the process instead of certain politicians whose fealty to the monarchy they doubt.
Associated Press video journalist Kiko Rosario contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016