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Elephants spray tourists with water in celebration of the Songkran Water Festival in Ayutthaya province, north of Bangkok, Thailand April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom


BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand kicked off its annual water festival or Songkran holiday on Thursday amid warnings from the military government to rein in the festival's usual exuberance as the country mourns its late king.

Thailand is in a year of mourning for widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died in October aged 88. Many entertainment events since his death have been scaled back or cancelled as a sign of respect.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the late king's son, is the new monarch.

The government has warned revellers not to wear skimpy clothing and to limit their alcohol intake, among other pronouncements.

Road fatalities usually soar during the national holiday with drink-driving being one of the top causes.

"I want everyone to help reduce accidents and have a little common sense. The selling of alcohol near festivals has caused chaos and the meaning of Songkran has been twisted," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters on Wednesday.

"We have to do our part in preserving our culture and traditions," he added.

Since taking power in a 2014 coup, Prayuth's military government has tried to restore what it sees as traditional Thai values, saying some Thai traditions have been corrupted by outside, Western influences.

But the warnings are unlikely to put a dampener on Thailand's most important holiday and one of its biggest tourist attractions – a time when Thais and tourists alike take part in boisterous street water fights armed with water pistols and buckets.

Songkran, which has been called the "world's biggest water fight", is also a time when Thais pay their respects to their elders by pouring water through their hands - a gesture meant to symbolize purification ahead of the new year.

The tourism authority said it expects the number of international tourists celebrating Songkran to rise 10 percent from the previous year to reach 470,000 visitors.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Cod Satrusayang; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Michael Perry)

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