Thailand's new interim prime minister said Wednesday he expects by the end of the week to select his Cabinet to serve until elections promised for October next year.
"The Cabinet lineup will be finalized by the end of this week but the first Cabinet meeting cannot be next Tuesday, as we have more procedures at carry out, such as swearing-in before the king," said Surayud Chulanont, a former army commander who was appointed premier on Sunday by the military council that seized power last month.
He indicated he would make public his Cabinet selection next week, but one of his first choices, central bank governor Pridiyathorn Devakula, said the list would probably be unveiled sooner.
Pridiyathorn is expected to take a post supervising economic affairs in the interim government, which is to rule for a year while a new democratic constitution is drafted.
"The prime minister himself will clarify (the Cabinet list) ...Thursday or Friday," he told reporters.
Pridiyathorn said he had proposed some names for the Cabinet to Surayud, but he didn't elaborate.
Surayud said he would publicly explain why he selected each minister.
Asked if he is putting together a "dream team," Surayud quipped, "My Cabinet will work in the real world."
Criticism of the coup and its aftermath have still not eased, however. Western nations and human rights groups called the takeover a setback to democracy, and expressed disapproval of continued restrictions imposed by the military, including curbs on press freedoms and limits on public gatherings.
The White House said Tuesday it is also concerned by provisions in the interim constitution that appear to give the military ongoing powers, and the lengthy timetable it outlines for democratic elections, scheduled for next October.
"Thailand's image in the eyes of the world and U.S.-Thai relations will suffer until Thailand returns to its place as a democratic leader in Asia," Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said, adding that Washington was "assessing additional next steps" to be taken against Thailand following last week's suspension of US$24 million (euro18.9 million) in military aid.
A U.S. Embassy official in Bangkok indicated Wednesday that Washington wanted to see the new government quickly lift martial law that coup leaders imposed after seizing power.
"In the next week to 10 days, if the new government does not lift martial law, that will be a point of concern for us," the official said on condition of anonymity, citing embassy policy.
But army commander Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, head of the military council that seized power, was cited by the state Thai News Agency as saying that martial law could not be lifted so quickly.
He was quoted saying that the interim government would have to get on a firm footing before he would make such a move.
"I have to be in charge of security," he said. "If martial law is lifted too soon, there could be problems."
The new Cabinet is expected to include respected technocrats and political figures with clean backgrounds. The military council that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra accused his government of corruption and is investigating the allegations.
Meanwhile, Thaksin _ who was in New York during the coup and remains overseas _ has resigned as leader of the Thai Rak Thai party he founded, funded and led to three election victories.
Thaksin faxed his resignation letter from London on Tuesday, after more than 200 of his party colleagues deserted the party he created in 1998.
Surayud said that his Cabinet will create a new policy aimed at ending southern Thailand's bloody Muslim separatist insurgency, and that several people who helped bring peace to the long-troubled region in the past will join his team.
"I am confident that the situation will improve," Surayud said.
He said it was too early to talk about contacting the shadowy rebels to hold peace talks.
However, the Thai News Agency quoted the army's new regional commander for the south, Lt. Gen. Wirot Buacharun, as saying that insurgent leaders "have signaled their readiness for peace talks" with the military. He refused to elaborate.
More than 1,700 people have died in the three southern provinces bordering Muslim-majority Malaysia since early 2004, with much of the blame placed on Thaksin's iron-fisted strategy to crush the rebels instead of focusing on the grievances in the region.
Most Thais are Buddhists. Muslims, a majority in the far south, have long complained of discrimination.
In Thaksin's three-page, handwritten letter, he said he had to resign "because of the current atmosphere and to protect the future of the party."
The military has advised Thaksin not to return to Thailand for the time being. He faces several corruption probes, but has denied wrongdoing.
Party officials declared it the end of the once all-powerful ruling party.
"The legacy of the Thai Rak Thai party is over," a former deputy party leader, Pongpol Adireksan, said Tuesday.