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New Thai premier prepares Cabinet as army chief says martial law stays for now

New Thai premier prepares Cabinet as army chief says martial law stays for now

BANGKOK, Thailand _ Thailand's new interim prime minister said Wednesday that he expects to choose his new Cabinet this week, while the army chief who staged last month's coup said martial law will remain in place for the time being to assure stability.
Surayud Chulanont, a former army commander whom the military council that seized power last month appointed as premier on Sunday, indicated he would make public his Cabinet selection next week.
However, 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 approved and an election held.
"The prime minister himself will clarify (the Cabinet list) ... Thursday or Friday," he told reporters.
Army commander Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, who led the bloodless Sept. 19 coup that installed Surayud after ousting elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, meanwhile said the martial law imposed after the takeover would not be lifted right away. Martial law allows the suspension of most civil liberties.
Western nations and human rights groups called the coup a setback to democracy, and have expressed disapproval of the restrictions imposed by the military, including curbs on press freedoms and limits on public gatherings.
The interim constitution that allowed Surayud to take office also gives the military a major political role over the next year, including a say in the drafting of the new permanent constitution and the right to remove the interim prime minister.
Gen. Sondhi was responding to press reports that the U.S. Embassy in Thailand said it would be concerned if martial law was not lifted within a week to 10 days.
"We will have to continue to use it (martial law) because we don't know if anything is going to happen during the transition period," said Sondhi.
"We have to wait for the interim government to take full charge in running the country before we can allow everything to return to the normal process," he said.
Aside from some small, student-led protests, and criticism by prominent Thai intellectuals, the coup has met almost no resistance inside Thailand.
The White House had said Tuesday it is 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.
The new Cabinet is expected to include respected technocrats and political figures with clean backgrounds. The military council that ousted Thaksin is investigating allegations of corruption against his government.
Thaksin _ who was in New York during the coup and remains overseas _ resigned Tuesday as leader of the Thai Rak Thai party he founded, funded and led to three election victories, after more than 200 of his party colleagues deserted 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.
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.


Updated : 2021-05-18 10:53 GMT+08:00