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November 15, 2008

Thais gather in thousands for royal funeral
Thousands of Thais lined capital streets early Saturday as soldiers pulled a chariot holding the remains of the king's sister, part of a six-day cremation ceremony that promises a temporary halt to the country's divisive political conflict, reported the Associated Press.

Princess Galyani Vadhana, the elder sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, died of abdominal cancer 10 months ago at age 84.

To the wail of ancient music, hundreds of soldiers in dress uniforms flanked by rows of drummers, trumpeters and conch-blowers accompanied the chariot as it began its journey through the heart of old Bangkok toward the Grand Crematorium - a $5.7 million temporary complex of pavilions built over the past seven months.

The cremation takes place later Saturday afternoon. The six-day ceremony started Friday with a period of mourning launched by saffron-robed Buddhist monks chanting prayers.

The 80-year-old king led the royal family at the gilded Grand Palace, where more than 100 specially chosen monks were in attendance. The king lit candles and incense, as his wife Queen Sirikit and their children looked on.

Saturday, tens of thousands of Thais started lining the route of the procession under clear skies.

Thais will perform religious rites and burn sandalwood flowers in her honor at temples around the country, and millions are expected to watch the procession on television.

The ceremony will provide a brief break from the protest-fueled political sparring that has gripped Thailand since anti-government protests began in May. In the worst political violence in the country in 16 years, two protesters were killed and more than 470 injured when the anti-government protesters and riot police clashed on October 7.

Protesters say they will suspend their anti-government vitriol for the duration of the funeral.

"We will cease making political remarks during the period to pay respect to the late princess," said Chamlong Srimuang, one of the protest leaders.

Thousands of demonstrators who stormed the prime minister's office on Aug. 26 have vowed to remain within the compound until the government resigns. They accuse the government of acting as proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law, has been forced to set up a temporary office at Bangkok's old airport. He urged a halt to divisive political activities during the funeral period.

"I want to appeal to all sides to put their differences aside. Everyone should mourn and perform good deeds as an act of merit to honor the late princess," he told reporters.

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