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Thai king makes first appearance in more than month

THAILAND'S 81-year-old king made his first public appearance today after more than a month in hospital, in an electric wheelchair and surrounded by hundreds of well-wishers as he visited statues of his parents.

The health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch, is a sensitive topic in financial markets because he is the sole unifying figure in a politically polarised country with a long history of coups and upheaval.

Looking frail in a light-blue short-sleaved shirt with a brown blanket over his lap, King Bhumibol was wheeled into a cordoned-off area of the hospital compound, at one point slowly raising his arm and maintaining his signature solemn expression.

He was surrounded by a medical team who helped steer his wheelchair in an appearance that lasted less than half an hour and appeared to overwhelm hundreds of supporters who bowed and pressed their hands together in a show of respect.

The king's lengthy disappearance from public view had raised concern in largely Buddhist Thailand where many of his subjects regard him as almost divine. Most of the country's 67 million people have lived under his 63-year reign.

Concerns about his health sparked a steep fall in Thai stock prices and the local baht currency on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15.


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