Thai King urges unity in first New Year speech

Thailand's new King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun is seen on a screen as he delivers a speech to Thais to celebrate new year at the Sanam Luang park, Bangkok, Thailand December 31, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn called for unity in his first New Year address since taking over from his late father, who was widely seen as a unifying force during decades of turbulence.

Any appearance by the new king is closely watched and the pre-recorded address was only the second time he has spoken to the public since taking the throne on Dec. 1 after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The new king has yet to command the popularity that his father enjoyed and has spent much of his adult life abroad.

“No matter what problems we may face in our country, we believe that if we work together we can overcome and alleviate any situation,” said the king in the broadcast on Saturday evening.

He thanked the public for their show of loyalty towards his father, still widely mourned after a rule that spanned seven decades. The usual New Year firework displays in Bangkok have been cancelled this year out of respect for the mourning period.

In the coming weeks, King Vajiralongkorn is expected to endorse a constitution drafted by the military government to start the process of restoring democracy.

The military toppled an elected government in 2014 and enforced political calm in a country divided by more than a decade of conflict between a military-backed royalist establishment and populist political forces.

Reporting by Cod Satrusayang; Editing by Andrew Heavens