BANGKOK Thailand's 81-year-old king appeared briefly in public on Monday to take part in a traditional ritual in the grounds of the hospital where he has been recovering from illness since mid-September.
The health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is a source of concern since he is seen as the sole unifying figure in a politically polarized country with a long history of coups and upheaval.
Wearing a white jacket over an open, checked pink shirt, the king moved around in a wheelchair, waving and taking pictures of the hundreds of happy, kneeling Thais who gathered to wish him fast recovery.
Accompanied by Queen Sirikit, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, members of the royal family and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the king spent about 15 minutes in the hospital grounds to mark the Loy Kratong festival.
With a healthier countenance than during his earlier public appearance 10 days ago, the king released a yellow float at the riverside hospital pier into the Chao Phraya River running through Bangkok.
On the Loy Krathong festival, Thais float small hand-made "rafts" on rivers or other stretches of water. By lighting a candle on the raft and sending it on its way, people symbolically get rid of all their bad feelings.
The king was admitted to hospital on September 19 with a fever, lung infection and lack of appetite. He had previously appeared only once in public since then, when he visited royal monuments in the hospital grounds on October 23.
In its last statement on his health on Friday, October 30, the bureau of the royal household said the king was getting "progressively better," he had regained strength and his course of antibiotics had been discontinued.
Concern about his health sparked a fall in stock prices and the baht currency on October 14 and 15.
The authorities have launched an investigation into the episode and on Sunday charged two people with undermining national security by spreading rumors about his health.
(Reporting by Vithoon Amorn; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Martin Petty and Jerry Norton)