Concerned about king's health, Thais flock to Bangkok hospital

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[October 13, 2016]  By Aukkarapon Niyomyat

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Several hundred people gathered at a Bangkok hospital on Thursday where Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest reigning monarch, is in an unstable condition as the government urged jittery stock investors to ignore rumors.

The palace said in a statement late on Wednesday the king's health had "overall not yet stabilized" and the 88-year-old was on a ventilator and battling a new infection.

It followed a statement on Sunday saying the king was in an unstable condition after receiving haemodialysis treatment.

No statement had been issued on Thursday by late afternoon but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had canceled an evening engagement. No reason was given.

"There will be no dinner tonight for the police which the prime minister was due to attend. That engagement has been called off," Piyaphand Pingmuang, a deputy police spokesman, told Reuters.

Prayuth will also cancel his attendance at a summit in Goa, India, on Sunday, the government said. Again, no reason was given.

Well-wishers gathered outside Siriraj Hospital, which is near Bangkok's Chao Phraya river, where the king has spent much of the past year.

Some wore yellow, the king's color, and others donned pink, a colur they believe will bring the king an improvement in his health. Some prayed.

"I was worried so I came here to see for myself," said housewife Thornpan Tornueng, 67.

"This evening I will take part in chanting for the king."

All of the king's four children, including Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, visited the hospital on Thursday, a Reuters reporter at the scene said, the second day in a row that all four children were at their father's bedside.

The king has long been seen as a unifying figure in Thailand, which has grappled with political uncertainty in recent years. His health, which is watched closely, is a sensitive subject.

Strict lese-majeste laws mean public discussions of his health and any succession plans are punishable by lengthy jail terms.

Investors in the Stock Exchange of Thailand have sold shares since Sunday's statement from the Royal Household Bureau on the king's health.

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Well-wishers holds up portraits of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

The main index fell as much as 6.9 percent on Wednesday to its lowest since March 1, but recovered to close down 2.5 percent, its lowest since the end of May.

It was up 0.47 percent by Thursday afternoon after falling just over 2 percent by the mid-day break.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said he had asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate rumors that had been affecting the market.

"I will tell the SEC to investigate who spread the news and who caused stocks to fall. Foreigners are waiting to pick up stocks and Thais are selling them," Somkid told reporters.

"I don't think it's beneficial to do that because this is an important time for the country and we should not undermine ourselves."

"Don't listen to rumors. Please only listen to the government," he added.

The government on Wednesday urged people to ignore rumors on social media and wait for official announcements.

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Pracha Hariraksapitak, Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Pairat Temphairojana; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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