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Tens of thousands pay respects to Thai princess

A portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (R) faces a portrait of his late sister Princess Galyani Vadhana as Thais gather to observe the procession for her cremation ceremony in Bangkok November 15, 2008. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Thais gathered in old Bangkok on Saturday for the cremation of Princess Galyani Vadhana, the elder sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died of cancer in January.

In the central ceremony of the 6-day, $9 million funerary rites that provided a rare glimpse of the pageantry of the House of Chakri, the king lit symbolic candles in front of his sister’s sandal-wood casket at an ornate Buddhist pavilion.

The procession that carried Galyani’s body from Bangkok’s Grand Palace, where it had been lying in state since January, involved 3,294 soldiers and three 200-year-old gilded funerary chariots.

The actual cremation of the princess, who was widely regarded as a patron of the arts, will take place later on Saturday.

Galyani’s death has also served as a reminder to Thais of the mortality of the 80-year-old king, an enduring pillar of stability for a country that has gone through 18 coups or attempted coups during his six decades on the throne.

Bhumibol spent several weeks in hospital last year with circulation problems, and there are growing concerns about his health. He walked unaided by sticks or retainers from his motorcade to the funerary pavilion, but moved in a slow shuffle.