By Andrew R.C. Marshall
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Many Thais were left stunned on Thursday by the death of their long-time monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, even though his health had been fragile for years.
The palace said in an announcement that the 88-year-old, who was the world's longest-reigning monarch, died peacefully in hospital.
By nightfall hundreds of people had gathered at Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital where the king spent most of the past year being treated for various illnesses.
"We came here hoping for a miracle. We hoped the news wasn't true," said lawyer Pimook Linpaisarn, 32.
Mourners around him held on to portraits of the king, or gazed up tearfully at the top-floor ward where they presumed his body lay.
Some read a black-edged palace statement on their smartphones and cried.
Pimook came to the hospital with his girlfriend Aunchisa Saekuay, who said the restaurant she runs was closed until further notice.
"It's like our father has gone," she wept.
The king was seen as a pillar of stability in a country that has weathered years of political unrest.
His seven-decade reign spanned the lifetime of most Thais and his portrait is visible throughout the country in offices, schools and on the front of government buildings.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Thai civil servants would mourn for the king for a year and urged Thais to refrain from festivities for the next 30 days.
WOMEN BREAK DOWN
As official news of King Bhumibol's death spread through the hospital grounds, a small group of women broke down, wailing and hugging each other for comfort.
Most people were somber in grief.
Siriraj, a big, busy city hospital, was overrun by mourners at times, although the river of people parted for patients on gurneys and wheelchairs coming in and out.
Soon, though, police and soldiers blocked the entrances to the hospital and the crowds inside thinned.
A thousand or more mourners amassed outside instead, some lining up to hold aloft a giant portrait of the king while friends or relatives took photos.
The atmosphere was subdued and respectful, with little of the raw emotion displayed earlier inside the hospital.
Elsewhere in Bangkok, the music coming out of the infamous bars of Patpong, one of Bangkok's red light districts, was turned down as a mark of respect.
"There has not been an order to close down the night clubs so far," a policeman in the area said.
In the backpacker enclave of Khao San Road, just across the river from Siriraj Hospital, shops and restaurants were as busy as usual, with beer-drinking customers spilling on to the streets from bars.
Television screens inside some establishments showed black-and-white films of the king's life, which were being played on all Thai channels.
(Additional reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Pairat Temphairojana; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Mike Collett-White)