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New Thai king to ascend throne in weeks, says prime minister

BANGKOK -- Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will ascend the throne sometime in October at the earliest, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Tuesday.

The crown prince, 64, is the only son of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and was appointed heir by his father in 1972.

He had asked the government for time to "grieve with the people" before becoming king. The uncertainty over the time frame for the royal succession had created anxiety in a nation mourning the loss of its revered king.

"Don't worry about the succession," Prayuth told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday. "It will proceed in accordance with the constitution, palace law and tradition." The "appropriate time" for the succession would be after the seventh or 15th day of mourning, Prayuth said, suggesting it will take place in a matter of weeks, not months. The dates he mentioned are important in Thai Buddhist funeral rites.

In the meantime, Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda will take on royal duties as "regent pro tempore."

Prayuth said that it will be the new king who signs the draft constitution, which is now being prepared for royal endorsement. Promulgation of the new constitution, which will be Thailand's 20th since 1932, is a necessary step for the country to move on to a general election slated for late 2017.

With the nation in a yearlong mourning period, there had been speculation the junta might delay the election.

"Everything is proceeding according to the [election] road map, nothing has changed," said Prayuth. "We have to be confident with each other and only listen to news officially announced by the government," he added.

Accession will proceed in accordance with an article in the nullified 2007 constitution. The article states that the cabinet first informs the speaker of the parliament about the succession, who then convenes parliament to announce the accession. The speaker then invites the heir to assume the throne and informs the public of the change. The procedure will be completed within a day. The country is currently under military rule, with the National Legislative Assembly acting as the parliament. 

The coronation of the new king will take place after the late king's cremation, preparations for which will take at least a year.

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