Thai king endorses military coup leader

“Do not criticise, do not create new problems. It’s no use,” Thailand's military chief, who seized power in a coup last Thursday, warned the people.

BANGKOK // Bolstered by a royal endorsement to run the country after last week’s coup, Thailand’s junta leader warned citizens on Monday not to cause trouble, not to criticise, not to protest — or else face a return to the “old days” of street violence.

Dressed in a crisp white military uniform, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said he had seized power to restore order after seven months of violent confrontations and political turmoil between the now-ousted government and demonstrators who had called repeatedly for the army to intervene.

“I’m not here to argue with anyone. I want to bring everything out in the open and fix it,” Gen Prayuth said in his first news conference since taking power last Thursday.

“Everyone must help me,” he said, before adding: “Do not criticise, do not create new problems. It’s no use.”

The warning came as an aide to former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she had been released Monday from military custody. Ms Yingluck, who was forced from power by a controversial court ruling earlier this month, had been held at an undisclosed location without a telephone since Friday.

The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Ms Yingluck had returned to her home.

In a gruff, 20-minute appearance, Gen Prayuth warned the media and social media users to avoid doing anything that could fan the conflict. He also called on anti-coup protesters who have staged small-scale demonstrations in Bangkok and several other cities for several days to stop.

“Right now there are people coming out to protest. So do you want to go back to the old days? I’m asking the people in the country, if you want it that way, then I will have to enforce the law.”

Earlier Monday, King Bhumibol Adulyadej officially endorsed Gen Prayuth to run the country in a royal command that called for “reconciliation among the people.”

King Bhumibol, who is 86 and in fragile health, did not attend the ceremony at the army headquarters in Bangkok. But the monarch’s statement removed any speculation that the palace, which has been silent so far, might withhold its support for the junta.

Thursday’s coup, Thailand’s second in eight years, deposed an elected government that had insisted for months that Thailand’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts, and finally the army that had rendered it powerless.

The country is deeply split between an elite establishment based in Bangkok and the south that cannot win elections on one side, and a poorer majority in the north that has begun to realise political and economic power on the other.

Gen Prayuth justified the takeover, saying that “when the conflict intensified, and there was the threat of violence, we had to act.”

“We are not doing this for the soldiers. I’m doing this to protect honour and dignity of all Thais. We cannot step back anymore. We have to stop arguing,” he said. “The most important thing right now is to keep peace and order in the country.”

Since sporadic violence began last November as anti-government protests gathered steam, at least 28 people were killed and more than 800 injured in grenade attacks, gunfights and drive-by shootings.

After declaring martial law May 20, Gen Prayuth invited political rivals and Cabinet ministers for two days of brief peace talks to resolve the crisis. But those talks lasted just four hours. At the end of the meeting, Gen Prayuth ordered everyone inside detained. Half an hour later, he appeared on state television declaring the coup.

The junta is now holding more than 200 people in custody, including most of the removed government. The rest include scholars, journalists and political activists seen as critical of the regime. Other activists have fled or are in hiding.

* Associated Pres

Published: May 26, 2014 04:00 AM

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