Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been hospitalised for treatment of a blood clot in the leg, the latest health setback for an ailing monarch seen as the main stabilising force in Thailand’s turbulent politics.

A brief royal palace statement read out on national television on Saturday evening said the 79-year-old king had been hospitalised for “weakness on one side of the body and that medical tests had revealed “a slightly inadequate blood flow to the brain.”

The statement said his condition had improved after about eight hours of treatment.

Thais flocked to the hospital yesterday to wish the king a speedy recovery.

King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving monarch, is revered in Thailand as a demi-god. Although he is a constitutional monarch with limited official powers, his advice and guidance is always sought in times of crisis, and his words are treated as nothing less than mandatory commands.

King Bhumibol did not conceal his distaste for Thaksin Shinawatra, the controversial telecommunications tycoon turned politician who swept to power as prime minister in 2001 on a tide of support from the rural poor.

As Mr Thaksin came under pressure last year from mass protests by urban middle class taxpayers challenging the premier’s legitimacy, the king initially rebuffed public calls to intervene in the deepening political crisis.

But many Thais saw the hand of the monarch in the coup by royalist military officers that drove Mr Thaksin from power last September. Among the reasons cited the coup leaders for Mr Thaksin’s ouster was the premier’s alleged disrespect for the monarchy.

His current illness, likely to evoke anxiety among Thais, comes as the military-installed government gears up for December elections that critics fear could pave the way for Mr Thaksin’s loyalists to return to power.

Over the last decade, King Bhumibol has pared back his once hectic schedule of public appearances and travel as his health has declined. In 1995, he had a heart operation to open constricted arteries and was treated for an irregular heartbeat in 1997. In July he underwent spinal surgery to ease years of back pain, though a month earlier he fractured a rib when he fell during a walk outside the palace.

Public discussion about the monarchy is limited by strict lese majesty laws that make it a serious crime, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, to say anything that defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir apparent or regent.

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