Sacred bulls predict rainfall for parched Thailand

Thailand's drought-stricken farmers got a rare bit of good news on Monday, when a pair of sacred bulls predicted that the heavens would finally open during the upcoming rainy season.

The bovine prophecy came during the kingdom's much-watched annual royal ploughing ceremony, an ancient rite officially marking the start of the main rice cultivation season.

During the ceremony, the creatures -- who must adhere to a strict list of physical attributes and boast a "polite temperament" -- are offered bowls containing various foods.

At Monday's ceremony, presided over by Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the two animals chose rice seeds, sesame, hay, water and liquor -- a combination the country's livestock department said meant sufficient water, bountiful crops and better foreign trade for the year ahead.

The bulls made a similarly positive prediction last year, but their forecast did not bear fruit.

Instead, like much of the greater Mekong region this year, Thailand has been hit hard by one of the worst droughts in decades.

Unable to plant their crop, rice farmers have lurched deeper into debt.

Thousands of villages in the north east have had to have water trucked to them as the river beds, reservoirs and waterfalls run dry.

Rains usually arrive from May onwards, peaking in August and September.

Thailand's military junta, which has embarked on a particularly harsh period of repression in recent weeks, will also be hoping the rains come.

The country's languishing economy remains the army's weak point, with falling exports and the generals struggling to kickstart growth.

Rice farmers, most of whom are in the north and northeast, broadly support the Shinawatra political family.

They have led two administrations toppled by the military in the last decade and are loathed by the kingdom's royalist elite.

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