BANGKOK (AP) — Tens of thousands of mourners have been rushing to Bangkok's Grand Palace to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as a period of nearly a year for his body to lie in state ends ahead of his cremation on Oct. 26.
Since Bhumibol's death last Oct. 13 at age 88, more than 12 million people have visited the golden Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall, where the late monarch's coffin is kept behind a symbolic royal urn. The hall is to be closed to visitors at midnight Thursday.
The throne hall has been kept open 24 hours a day since last Saturday to accommodate the high number of last-minute mourners. Officials said the palace received over 96,000 visitors Wednesday, a record number for one day.
One group of visitors said they had waited outside the palace walls from 9 p.m. Wednesday until Thursday morning. But the wait does not faze most mourners, who still feel distraught over the loss of their king nearly a year after his death.
"I still can't accept it. Every time I think about this, I feel so sad," Watchiraporn Daengsomboon said as she lined up outside the palace Thursday. "Today, I've come to pay my respects for the last time. We won't have this chance again."
Bhumibol reigned for 70 years and was highly revered for his dedication to the country's development, demonstrated over many decades by his visits to even the most remote areas of the country, where he was able to hear directly from citizens about their concerns.
Bhumibol was succeeded by his son, current King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarankun, who does not yet command the same level of respect as his father. He presides over a country that has been sharply polarized by political strife over the past decade and has been under military rule since 2014.
Political tensions have led to increased use of a strict law that mandates prison terms of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of defaming or insulting the monarchy, including the media. Critics say the law is being used by the ruling junta to quash its critics.
Vajiralongkorn will preside over commemoration ceremonies on the anniversary of his father's death. That will be followed by an elaborate royal cremation ceremony from Oct. 25 to 29.
The crematorium, situated on a public field near the palace, is a representation of mystical Mount Meru, where gods reside according to Buddhist and Hindu legends.