Thailand's revered but ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej made a rare public appearance Monday, his first since September, amid growing concern about his health. An official photograph, released late Monday by the Palace, showed the 88-year-old king, who is perceived as a near-deity by many Thais, sitting on a gold throne at a ceremony to swear in new judges. The ceremony took place at the Bangkok hospital where the king, who marked his birthday last week, has been staying for months receiving treatment for a variety of ailments, including a lung infection. The world's longest serving monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is seen as a unifying figure in the deeply divided nation. He has been in and out of hospital for much of the last two years and rarely makes public appearances. Few details concerning his health have been given out by the palace. In September, the palace released a video of the monarch in a wheelchair, looking visibly weakened, visiting a shop in the hospital. Most Thais have only known King Bhumibol on the throne and anxiety over the future once his six-decade reign ends is seen as an aggravating factor in Thailand's bitter political divide. The military took over last May following months of street protests that led to the toppling of Yingluck Shinawatra's democratically elected government. It was the latest chapter in Thailand's long-drawn political conflict, which broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite, backed by parts of the military and judiciary, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, who was also deposed in a coup in 2006. Thailand's generals have said they will hand back power once the country's constitution has been rewritten and corruption has been expunged. But critics say the military has used its status as the defender of the monarchy as a pretext to grab power and ensure the Shinawatras never return. Bhumibol, who is shielded by one of the world's toughest royal defamation laws, has seen nearly 20 attempted or successful coups throughout his reign. Prosecutions under Thailand's controversial lese majeste law have dramatically increased since the military's takeover. This summer, a man was sentenced to 30 years in prison and a woman handed 28 years after posting Facebook messages deemed insulting to the royal family.
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