In a televised address late on Friday, General Prayuth Chan-ocha
said the military would need time to reconcile Thailand's
antagonistic political forces and to engineer reforms.
Prayuth, who ousted the government of Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra after months of sometimes violent protests, appealed for
patience from Thailand's international allies after outlining his
reform plan to the Southeast Asian nation.
But the response from foreign governments was to keep up the
pressure on the ruling junta to call elections quickly.
At a conference in Singapore on Saturday, U.S. Defence Secretary
Chuck Hagel urged the Thai armed forces to release detainees, end
censorship and "move immediately to restore power to the people of
Thailand, through free and fair elections".
Australia scaled back relations with the Thai military on Saturday
and banned coup leaders from travelling there. [ID:nL3N0OH06L]
"We understand that we are living in a democratic world. All we are
asking for is give us time to reform," Prayuth said in his address
on Friday, seated at a table with flowers in front of him and
portraits of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit on a wall
behind him. "We believe that you will choose our kingdom before a
flawed democratic system."
"THREE, NOT FIVE"
At the heart of nearly a decade of political turmoil in Southeast
Asia's second biggest economy is conflict between the Bangkok-based
royalist establishment dominated by the military, old-money families
and the bureaucracy, and an upstart clique led by former
telecommunication mogul Thaksin Shinawatra which draws much of its
strength from the provinces.
Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and has lived in self-exile
since a 2008 corruption conviction, was the real power behind the
deposed government of his sister, Yingluck.
Security was tight around a normally traffic- and pedestrian-clogged
Victory Monument where protests flared earlier in the week. The
closure of the overhead city rail station at the landmark reduced
the number of people on streets and walkways.
Security was being enforced predominantly by police, who had at
least seven large trucks parked nearby. Police stood taking photos
of each other, chatting to a small group of soldiers standing around
a Humvee with a loudspeaker strapped to the top.
Trucks and police also lined the road near a central shopping mall
where demonstrations took place a week earlier, but there was no
sign of any rallies.
A man was arrested and another fled when police thwarted their
attempt to hold a protest at another downtown shopping centre. One
of the men held up a sign before a media scrum that said "election
only" for less than a minute before police pounced and bundled him
into a police truck.
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Later, three women sat on the steps of a McDonald's restaurant and
sang a song seeking the return to democracy.
"There are only three
of us, not five," one of the women shouted at police, referring to a
ban on gatherings of five or more people.
Despite martial law and a ban on gatherings, small protests against
the military takeover have been held almost daily in Bangkok. There
has been no serious violence. Activists, spreading word through
social media, had said they would hold a big show of opposition at
the weekend to press for the restoration of democracy.
'TIME TO REFORM' Prayuth, in his speech of about 40 minutes,
outlined a three-phase process beginning with reconciliation which
would take up to three months. A temporary constitution would be
drawn up and an interim prime minister and cabinet chosen in a
second phase, taking about a year, he said.
An election would be the third and final phase.
He did not elaborate on reforms but Thaksin's opponents want changes
to the electoral system to end his influence. Thaksin's appeal among
poorer voters, especially in the populous, rural northeast and
north, has ensured that he or his allies have won every election
The political crisis comes at a time of anxiety in Thailand over the
issue of royal succession. The king, the world's longest reigning
monarch, is 86 and spent the years from 2009-2013 in hospital. The
monarchy is Thailand's most important institution.
The struggling economy is a priority for the military. Prayuth has
asked officials to look into the possibility of reducing a 7 percent
value-added tax, deputy army spokesman Colonel Weerachon
Gross domestic product shrank 2.1 percent in the first quarter of
2014 as the anti-government unrest damaged confidence and scared off
(Additional reporting by Viparat Jantraprap; Editing by Mark
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