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THAILAND COUP: Coup leader warns of crackdown on dissent

Publication Date : 27-05-2014


Striking an uncompromising stance after winning the endorsement of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha warned that he may crack down on protests even as dissent against his seizure of power showed no sign of abating.

A 10pm-to-5am curfew imposed since last Thursday would go on indefinitely as the junta continues its purge of what it deems to be anti-establishment figures across the country.

Meanwhile, 11 leaders of the protest movement that had spent the past six months trying to topple the now deposed Puea Thai party-led government were released from detention yesterday.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was promptly indicted on murder charges over his role in a deadly crackdown on anti-government "red shirt" protesters in 2010, when he was deputy prime minister. He was freed on bail.

Puea Thai members, meanwhile, were among other individuals who continued to be summoned by the military to be questioned and then detained.

General Prayuth, holding his first press conference since Thursday's coup, warned he may use force on protesters who yesterday massed at one of the biggest intersections in Bangkok despite the pre-emptive suspension of public transport facilities nearby.

"We do not wish to fight with anyone," the army chief, dressed in a white ceremonial uniform and flanked by other military officers in the junta, said gruffly. But "if this carries on, we will need to enforce the law", he added.

Earlier yesterday, Gen Prayuth said the King had endorsed him as the leader of the military council overseeing Thailand, giving him legitimacy in a country where the monarch is widely revered.

Since last week, he has assumed all lawmaking power and summoned over 200 people - including prominent activists, politicians and academics - before putting them under detention at unspecified locations. The press has also been warned not to publish anti-coup content.

The junta's administration body will now be based at the Thai army's headquarters, where it will supervise the workings of each ministry with the help of appointed experts.

The National Council for Peace and Order  - as it calls itself - also began making long overdue payments to farmers who had sold rice to the government under a now-defunct scheme, a key campaign platform of the Puea Thai party in 2011 that ran aground due to funding problems.

Gen Prayuth would not say when elections, held on Feb 2 but sabotaged by anti-government protesters, could be held.

"There is no answer for now, (it) depends on when we bring peace to this country," he said.

"We understand the democratic process... but the conflicts we are facing keep going on, and they could not lead to a safe, quick and accurate democracy. So it is necessary to do what we did."

Just before the coup, Thailand had been roiled by a nearly seven- month-long crisis that kept tourists away and caused the economy to shrink 2.1 per cent in the first quarter.

The deadlock was part of an almost decade-long conflict pitting the royalist elites and urban middle class against the rural masses who support Puea Thai.

The military has been rounding up leaders of the "red shirt" movement since Thursday, sending many into hiding.

Though analysts say this has curtailed opposition to the military in the short term, they also warn that it could provoke a violent backlash in the future.

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