Page last updated at 12:16 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Thai king misses birthday speech

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej has not been able to give his traditional speech to the nation on the eve of his 81st birthday.

Crown Prince Varjiralongkorn went on the radio instead to say his father was a "little sick".

Thais had been looking forward to hearing from their much-loved monarch, who has long been looked to for guidance in times of turmoil.

Thailand is in the middle of a long-running political stand-off.

The international airport was taken over by anti-government protesters for most of the past week, and the situation is only now getting back to normal.

But correspondents say there is still a huge backlog of tourists waiting to leave Thailand.

'Not serious'

Prince Vajiralongkorn informed Thais that the king was unable to deliver the speech "because he was a little sick".

Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the king's daughter, added that his condition was "not serious", saying he had "a blockage in his throat and a poor appetite".

The king's speech is usually given in front of senior government officials and other specially-invited guests on the evening before his birthday.

It is also broadcast live on national radio to his many millions of adoring subjects.

This is the first time in his 62-year reign that the king - the longest-serving monarch in the world - has not given the address.

According to the BBC's correspondent in Thailand, Jonathan Head, his failure to appear will be very unsettling for a country which looks to its monarch for reassurance and guidance in times of turmoil.

Airport sit-in

Thailand is currently in the middle of an ongoing political crisis.

Anti-government demonstrators leave Don Muang airport - 3 December
The protesters agreed to leave the airports after the prime minister fell
Led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), protesters had camped out at Bangkok's two airports, including the main international Suvarnabhumi airport, for eight days.

Tensions eased somewhat on Tuesday, when a court ousted Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and some of his senior ministers for electoral fraud in last year's poll.

The PAD decided to vacate the airports after the verdict.

Flights have now resumed, and 36 aircraft were scheduled to take off on Thursday, 12 of which were international flights.

Officials say a full schedule will not resume until Friday.

Many Thais were keen for the airport stand-off to be resolved before the revered monarch celebrated his 81st birthday on Friday.

Thai Airways and the Airports Authority of Thailand said they were preparing to sue the protesters for damages resulting from the occupation.

Thailand's economy, which is dependant on tourism and exports, is also expected to take time to recover.

The country's central bank cut interest rates by a shock 100 basis points to 2.75% on Wednesday, reflecting the economic costs of the crisis.

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