RELIEF engulfs Thailand. After 17 days, ten of them without food or medicine, the last of 12 Thai boys and their football coach emerged from the Tham Luang cave on July 10th. The Wild Boars team became trapped 4km into the complex after heavy rains flooded it while they explored together. Hundreds of divers, rescue workers, doctors and officials worked to bring them to safety. Even Elon Musk, a Silicon Valley luminary, turned up to offer his services and a mini submarine (which, while appreciated, the Thai government carefully explained, was not what was needed). The team eventually swam through the flooded tunnels individually or in pairs using scuba gear. Guide ropes and professional divers helped them find their way through the dark waters.

Heroic tales abound. Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died after delivering air tanks to the team on July 5th. Thailand’s king announced shortly afterwards that he would receive a sumptuous funeral paid for by the crown. Ekkapol Chantawong, the young coach, had been a Buddhist monk for several years and reportedly kept the boys calm by teaching them meditation. He also gave them his share of the scant provisions they had packed for the original expedition and was the last to leave. Cave-diving experts flew in from several countries to help with the rescue.

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The outcome prompted joy around the world: Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations. The team were offered tickets to the final of the World Cup, but will not be well enough to travel. The British club they support, Manchester United, has also invited them to visit.

Thailand’s military rulers could not resist basking in all the goodwill. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who heads the ruling junta, was able to show a softer side on a visit to monitor the rescue efforts. And the long drama diverted public attention from the country’s sluggish economy and political muddle “to something that the government could take action on”, says Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University. Every one of the four years it has been in power, the junta has promised to hold elections, only to change its mind and delay them. It recently pushed them back from February to May. Its leaders seem increasingly hapless and aloof. But this time, at least, they showed they can get things done.

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