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Thailand marches forward with issuance of new bank notes

Portrait of King Rama X replaces that of his revered father on bills and coins

Women hold up Thailand's new bank notes, which feature a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn. (Photo by Hiroshi Kotani)

BANGKOK -- Thai currency showed a familiar face on Friday as the Bank of Thailand began issuing new bank notes featuring King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, also referred to as Rama X.

Launched in denominations of 20, 50 and 100 baht, the bills mark another step forward in the nation's new era, replacing notes bearing the picture of his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for 70 years.

The launch of the new notes, along with nine coins, came on the national holiday that commemorates the founding of the current Chakri dynasty in 1782. The 500 baht and 1,000 baht versions will be released on July 28, the 66th birthday of the king, who assumed the throne in late 2016 following the passing of his much-revered father.

The front of all bills feature a portrait of the king dressed in his Royal Thai Air Force uniform, while the backs will display the nine late kings of the Chakri dynasty, two on each note. For the 1,000 baht note, the back will picture King Vajiralongkorn with his father.

New coins also bear the king's portrait. Sizes and colors of the notes and coins are the same as existing ones.

The central bank expects it will take several years to replace the old currency.

Most banks were closed on Friday due to the national holiday, but some branches were open in shopping malls to distribute the new notes. 

"I'd been looking forward to the bills since I first heard the news in the media," said a 60-year-old Bangkok housewife. "I have faith in the Chakri dynasty, especially the late King Bhumibol, so I pass my love and respect on to Rama X."

The country has yet to decide the coronation date of King Vajiralongkorn, but has been steadily adapting to the new monarch over the past year.

Huge portraits of him are replacing those of his father on streets and government buildings. In cinemas, a short clip of Rama X accompanied by the king's anthem precedes each movie.

Despite his rare public appearances, the king is making his presence felt. Last July, he had the Crown Property Act amended for the first time in nearly 70 years to gain full control of the monarchy's assets.

Estimated at more than $44 billion, the assets include prime Bangkok real estate and shares in the country's top corporations.

Following the amendment, King Vajiralongkorn became a major shareholder of Siam Commercial Bank, Thailand's third-largest lender, and industrial conglomerate Siam Cement Group through transfers of shares from the Crown Property Bureau.

In addition, his secretary was appointed to become the head of the bureau replacing the late king's close aide, who had served in the position for nearly 30 years.

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