Don’t create problems, warns leader of Thai junta

General calls for protests to stop, threatening a return to ‘old days’ of violence

Bangkok

Bolstered by a royal endorsement to run the country after last week’s coup, the leader of Thailand’s junta warned citizens today not to cause trouble, not to criticise and not to protest – or else they would face a return to the “old days” of street violence.

Dressed in a crisp white uniform, General 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 the former Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, said she was released from military custody today. 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, said Ms Yingluck had gone 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 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.”

General Prayuth Chan-ocha was given the backing of the King after days of silence from the palace General Prayuth Chan-ocha was given the backing of the King after days of silence from the palace (EPA)

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

The King, 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.

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

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 its political and economic power over 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 have to stop arguing,” he said. “The most important thing right now is to keep peace and order.”

Since sporadic violence began last November with anti-government protests gathering steam, at least 28 people have been killed in grenade attacks, gunfights and  drive-by shootings.

After declaring martial law on 20 May, Gen Prayuth invited political rivals for peace talks. At the end of the meeting, he ordered everyone detained. Half an hour later, he appeared on state television, declaring a coup.

AP

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