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Elite Thais lash out at foreign coup critics

Publication Date : 06-06-2014


Thailand's conservative elites are hitting back at criticism of the army by the international community, displaying a nationalism evident in their recent movements against former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his government that they often paint as unpatriotic.

One of the counterblasts came from a prominent Thai at a press conference on Sunday. 

Songsuda Yodmani, president of the American University Alumni Association of Thailand, said in response to criticism from the  US: "We are an independent nation. We are not a colony of the United States. We will defend the pride and dignity of the Thai nation."

An online petition seeking the recall of US envoy Kristie Kenney - posted May 24 - saw almost 10,000 sign up by yesterday.

Explaining the backlash, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, the acting foreign minister, said: "The mood in Thailand is we have to resolve this ourselves. Please don't preach to us or pressure us."

While the US is a close ally of Thailand, US Secretary of State John Kerry had said on the day of the military coup - May 22 - that "there is no justification" for it. He added: "This act will have negative implications for the US-Thai relationship."

Two days later, the US  cancelled an ongoing joint military exercise and suspended mutual visits of top military commanders.

The European Union and Britain also weighed in, issuing critical statements.

Australia  on May 31 suspended some joint military activities and imposed a travel ban on leaders of the junta.

On Wednesday though, a spokesman for the Thai military's National Council for Peace and Order said Vietnam and China had expressed support, assuring Bangkok that "they still have a good relationship with Thailand".

One of many Thais who greeted the coup with relief was Kanittha  Thepasak, 23, daughter of a civil servant and graduate student at Chulalongkorn University.

"I feel safer now," she said. "The country seemed to have become lawless. With the coup d'etat, the military is bringing everything back to order."

While there have been regular protests against the coup in Bangkok, in defiance of martial law that prohibits gatherings of five or more, they have been small.

Meantime, there have also been sporadic pro-army protests.

Much of the support for one side or the other - the army and the conservative elites, or the ousted government that is seen as the puppet of Thaksin - comes from their traditional supporters.

Then there are those who are opposed to the coup because they are pro-democracy.

Clearly, Thailand's political divide remains entrenched despite the semblance of stability that the army has enforced.

The task of explaining Thailand's official position to the international community has fallen to Sihasak.

He has been travelling to foreign capitals to convey the junta's message that this "wasn't a coup that took place because those who carried it out wanted power".

Rather, "the situation at the time was a state of paralysis. Government wasn't functioning, politicians couldn't get their act together. If that had continued, it would have been detrimental to the country, to Asean, to all our partners. That is the context," he told The Straits Times.

Still, he admitted: "The coup is not a solution. We have to work towards a solution. It is a breathing space."

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