Thai protesters take time-out as king's 86th birthday celebrated

Thai antigovernment protesters took a time-out from rallying Thursday as people across the country celebrated the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who read out a message appealing for national unity.

Hundreds of thousands of Thais wearing yellow, the king's color, chanted "Long live the King" and waved national and royal flags as they lined a route to Klai Kangwon Palace in the southern beach resort of Hua Hin, where the king has been staying with Queen Sirikit since being discharged from hospital in Bangkok early this year.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the democratically elected younger sister of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who has refused anti-Thaksin protesters' demands that she relinquish power, led the Cabinet members, parliamentarians, military brass and others in delivering well-wishes to the king at a royal ceremony at the palace, located about 200 kilometers from Bangkok.

King Bhumibol, a constitutional monarch regarded as above politics, later thanked his well-wishers and exhorted Thais to perform their duties properly and maintain unity.

"Our country has been peaceful because we are united. Do (your) duty and support each other for the sake of the country," the world's longest reigning monarch said.

The king's birthday follows antigovernment protests that left four people dead and nearly 300 others injured over the past week. The protests started in early November after the lower house of parliament passed an amnesty bill that critics said was designed to pave the way for the return of Thaksin, who was ousted in a bloodless 2006 military coup and fled the country after being convicted of corruption and other charges.

The bill was later voted down in the Senate.

Yingluck plans to invite all political parties after the king's birthday to discuss a platform of political reform.