Bangkok — Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has appointed his consort as the country’s queen ahead of his official coronation on Saturday. An announcement Wednesday in the Royal Gazette said Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya was legally married to the 66-year-old king, and was now Queen Suthida.

Although she has been in the public eye for about three years, there has been little official information released about her and the news was a surprise to many Thais. She is reported to be 40 years old and to have previously worked as a flight attendant for Thai Airways International. The two reportedly met on a flight.Suthida joined the palace guard in 2013 and became commander of the king’s security unit, currently holding a general’s rank. The new queen also has several top royal decorations.
Vajiralongkorn has had three previous marriages and divorced his previous wife, with whom he has a son, in 2014. He became king after the death in October 2016 of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.Thai television, which broadcast the royal order Wednesday evening, showed a video of Suthida prostrating herself before the king. According to the announcer, she presented the king with a tray of flowers and joss sticks, and in return was bestowed traditional gifts associated with royal power.TV showed the king in a white uniform and his bride in a pink silk traditional dress formally registering their marriage on Wednesday in his palace residence in Bangkok. The couple was seen signing a marriage certificate book, which was also signed by the king’s sister, Princess Sirindhorn, and Privy Council head Prem Tinsulanonda as witnesses. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and other senior officials were also in attendance.Thailand is ruled by a military government and the royal family still wields significant influence as an embodiment of power.Insulting the monarch, queen or heir apparent is punishable by three to 15 years in prison under Thai law. In practice, however, the rules are more widely interpreted, and the military government has been criticized for its frequent use of the law to silence critics since it seized power in May 2014. The “lese majeste” law has been widely condemned, including by rights groups and the United Nations, which has called for it to be revoked. Some 100 cases of lese majeste have been prosecuted since the 2014 coup, according to the legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

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