Thai coup leader warns anti-coup protesters, promises polls

Bangkok: Buoyed by a royal endorsement to run a politically unstable country, Thailand’s coup leader today warned of a crackdown on people protesting military rule and vowed to hold elections as “soon as possible” but refused to set a time frame.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, dressed in a white uniform and flanked by more than a dozen other military officials, addressed reporters here, saying he had received a royal command from the country’s deeply revered King to head the ruling military council.

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

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

He issued a warning to the groups of protesters who have gathered in Bangkok in recent days to voice their opposition to the coup and call for democratic elections.

“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,” Prayuth said.

The demonstrators, who numbered in the hundreds yesterday, have scuffled with soldiers in the streets.

So far, the military has allowed the small-but-growing protests to take place, even though martial law forbids
gatherings of more than five people.

With more protests expected, Prayuth said the military would not tolerate public displays of dissent indefinitely as the situation was reaching a “boiling point”.

He urged people to stop demonstrating, warning that they risk a stricter enforcement of martial law and prosecution in military courts.

Prayuth also told journalists and social media users not to post provocative messages.

He vowed to hold elections as “soon as possible” but said there was “no set time period” for when fresh polls might be held.

Television footage showed that after the palace proclamation was read out, Prayuth knelt down before a full-size portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej during the ceremony at army headquarters here.

The 86-year-old monarch was not present during the ceremony.

In the largest march since the coup on Thursday, over 1,000 people held protest march in one of Bangkok’s busiest shopping districts yesterday.

Tensions rose high yesterday after protesters shouting “Get out, get out, get out!” confronted the armed soldiers, who blocked their ways to the city’s Skytrain and upscale malls.

Prayuth also defended the detentions of over 100 top leaders of the ousted government along with former premier Yingluck Shinawatra and some protest leaders.

However, a media report yesterday said Yingluck had been quietly released by the military junta which has asked her to help maintain peace and not to get involved with protesters or any political movement.

Yingluck is no longer in military custody, CNN reported, quoting a highly placed source in the Thai military that
seized power in a bloodless coup last week, as saying.

A source close to the 46-year-old Yingluck also confirmed that she was released from a military camp, the report said.

Suthep Thaugsuban, an anti-government protest leader, has also been released by the military. However, he is still facing charges.

Yingluck, whose government was in power when the unrest began in November, was removed from office earlier this month by the country’s Constitutional Court over the appointments of top security officials.

Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as premier in a military coup in 2006. Thailand has faced a power struggle since Thaksin was ousted as Prime Minister by the military in 2006.

The latest unrest began last year, when anti-government protesters embarked on a campaign to oust Yingluck’s government. They accuse Yingluck of acting as a proxy for her fugitive brother.

Thaksin lives in Dubai on a self-exile to avoid jail for a corruption conviction that he claims was politically
motivated.

The military moved in after months of anti-government protests, often violent, left over 28 dead and scores injured.

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