A protester against military rule holds a sign in front of
soldiers deployed to the Victory monument where protesters
are gathered, in Bangkok. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Thai coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha says he has
been formally endorsed by the king as head of a military
council that will run the country, and warns he will use force
if political protests flare up again.
Prayuth seized power on May 22, saying the army would restore
order after nearly seven months of sometimes deadly street
demonstrations. The military has taken into custody scores of
politicians, activists and others.
"Will we go back to where we were before? If you want to do
that, I will need to use force and impose the law strictly,"
Prayuth said in a statement he read on television. "You will
have to forgive any tough measures as they are necessary."
He did not set a timeframe for how long the army would stay
in power, although he said he hoped to hold elections soon.
The royal endorsement is a significant formality in Thailand,
where the monarchy is the most important institution.
But Prayuth's address would have provoked conflicting
reaction in a country polarised by nearly a decade of rivalry
between the royalist establishment, of which Prayuth is a
member, and Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist tycoon who broke
the political mould.
Prayuth, wearing a formal white dress uniform, said he would
set up a council of advisers but gave no details on the form
of a government that will run the country under his military
junta, the National Council for Peace and Order.
"The country needs a prime minister," he said.
The military ousted the remnants of a government that had
been led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's
sister, until she was removed by a court on May 7 for abuse
of power. Thaksin was ousted as premier in a 2006 coup.
The military has taken over with a heavy hand, throwing out
the constitution, dissolving the Senate and censoring the
media. Anyone who insults the monarchy or violates the
military's orders will be tried in a military court.
Despite warnings, small crowds of people voicing opposition
to the coup have been gathering daily in Bangkok since the
takeover, as well as in the north and northeast, strongholds
of the ousted government. There have been no serious clashes.
On Monday, several hundred people gathered at Bangkok's
Victory Monument where about 1,000 protesters massed on
Some shouted "we want elections" and "coup get out", others
held up signs saying "we want democracy", a Reuters reporter
Police and soldiers turned in force to block the protesters
and there was jeering and some scuffles but no serious
trouble. Soldiers in a van with a loudspeaker urged people
not to join the protesters, saying they were being paid, and
blamed foreign media for trying to damage the country.
While the protests are a nuisance for the army, a more
serious threat would be armed resistance from Thaksin's "red
shirt" loyalists. They have always threatened to fight a coup
but with so many of their leaders detained or in hiding,
activists say they have no plan for opposition.
Authorities seized weapons and detained activists in the
northeast last week. On Monday, an army ranger was killed in
Trat province, near the Cambodian border, in a clash with
suspected pro-Thaksin gunmen during a search, the army said.
YINGLUCK ALLOWED HOME
Earlier on Monday, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former
pro-establishment politician who led protests that undermined
Yingluck's government, was released on bail, his lawyer said.
He had been held since the coup.
The army has also allowed Yingluck to go home, although she
remains under military supervision with soldiers guarding her
residence, a military official said on Sunday.
But the easing of restrictions on Yingluck will do little to
dispel concern among her supporters that the military is
intent on a crackdown for reasons other than simply restoring
Thaksin, seen as the real power behind his sister's
government, was ousted in 2006 after his big-spending
policies had won him the passionate support of the poor but
the animosity of the establishment, who saw him as a corrupt,
authoritarian opportunist and a threat to the old order.
The upstart former telecommunications tycoon, who refused to
conform with the establishment's ways, was also accused of
being disrespectful to the monarchy and even a closet
republican, which he denied.
The former leader, who has lived in self-exile since a 2008
graft conviction, said on Twitter he was saddened by the
latest events, and called on the army to treat everyone
The crisis between the establishment and Thaksin comes amid
anxiety over the issue of royal succession. The king, the
world's longest-reigning monarch, is 86 and spent the years
from 2009 to 2013 in hospital.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same
devotion as his father, but some Thaksin supporters have
recently been making a point of showing their loyalty to the
One Thaksin ally, ousted Education Minister Chaturon
Chaisang, said he expected the military to take steps aimed
at sidelining once and for all Thaksin, his family and his
allies, and blocking forever his formidable political
machine, which has won every election since 2001.
"Any election after that would be meaningless," Chaturon told
Reuters by telephone on Sunday, referring to changes he
expects the military to implement.
For now, the military is focusing on ending dissent and
getting the economy back on track.
Shares in building contractors jumped more than 3 percent on
Monday on expectations the military government would speed up
disbursements for infrastructure projects that were put on
hold during the months of political unrest.
Among them, Italian-Thai Development Pcl, the country's
largest construction firm, rose 0.5 percent even though the
army has summoned its president, Premchai Karnasuta, to
appear on Monday, along with 37 others including political
associates and big business allies of Thaksin.
Also on Monday, the military officer overseeing the economy
met senior economic civil servants.