Thais mark new King's birthday with monks, stamps

Bangkok (AFP) - Monks gathered for a mass alms-giving ceremony and glittering commemorative stamps were issued on Friday as Thais marked the 65th birthday of King Maha Vajiralongkorn -- his first as monarch of the politically febrile nation.

Vajiralongkorn took the throne late last year after the death of his deeply revered father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who built up a cult-like following during his 70-year reign.

Thailand is still mourning Bhumibol's death and Friday's celebrations were muted compared to the parades and other festivities that marked the late king's birthdays.

It was not clear whether Vajiralongkorn was in his kingdom for his birthday or abroad, where he spends much of his time.

He did not attend an early morning religious ceremony outside Bangkok's Royal Plaza, where more than 600 Buddhist monks lined up to receive alms from junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha and other officials.

In other parts of the capital local businesses erected portraits of the new king while well-wishers lined up to get special edition postage stamps of the monarch.

"The first day of the sales of the first stamp in the reign of King Rama X (Vajiralongkorn)...was met with huge public interest," Thailand's postal service said in a statement.

Royal affairs are highly sensitive in Thailand, where the monarchy has limited power on paper but wields vast influence behind the scenes.

The institution is protected from criticism by a severe defamation law that has been aggressively enforced by the ultra-royalist junta and landed offenders decades in jail.

The opacity of palace affairs -- and curbs on scrutinising the institution -- make it difficult to parse the new king's relationship with the military and other key powerbrokers.

But he has already asserted himself with several moves that consolidate his control over the palace bureaucracy and reduce government oversight.

Earlier this month Vajiralongkorn was granted power to appoint all members of a body that oversees the palace's multi-billion dollar financial portfolio.

The committee was previously headed by the finance minister.

Under the new king's direction, the junta has also removed constitutional provisions that require him to appoint a regent when overseas or have all royal decrees countersigned by a government official.

In May Vajiralongkorn took direct control of five state agencies overseeing palace affairs and security that were previously run by the government or military.

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