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Home >> World
UPDATED: 10:18, September 21, 2006
Thai king endorses authority of coup leader
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Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej yesterday endorsed a coup leader to head the new governing council, according to a televized announcement.

"In order to create peace in the country, the king appoints General Sonthi Boonyaratglin as head of the council of administrative reform," according to the announcement on state-run television.

"All people should remain peaceful and civil servants should listen to orders from General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin from now on."

The king's endorsement is widely seen as giving legitimacy to the new Council of Administrative Reform.

Sonthi led a takeover overnight without firing a shot, sending soldiers and tanks to guard major intersections and surround government buildings while the popularly elected Thaksin, accused of corruption and undermining democratic institutions, was abroad.

Coup habits hard to kick

Throughout months of political stalemate, Sonthi swore the military had moved on from its days of meddling in government.

But having broken the mould as the first Muslim military chief in an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, the decorated Viet Nam War veteran demonstrated that some habits are just too hard to kick.

With Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at the United Nations in New York, Sonthi and his counterparts in the navy, air force and police carried out Thailand's 18th military coup in 74 years of on-off democracy.

Flanked by the heads of the other branches of the military and the police, the stocky 59-year-old appeared on national television yesterday morning to announce the formation of a "Council of Political Reform."

"The Council has no intention to run the country by ourselves and will return power, under the constitutional monarchy, to the people as soon as possible," he said.

Whatever the long-term outcome, the move was a major about-turn for Sonthi, who took up the position as army commander-in-chief a year ago, painting himself as a modern, professional soldier who shunned interference in politics.

"Don't worry about coups," the former special forces officer told reporters in November as speculation mounted about a military move to resolve a looming political stalemate stemming from a Bangkok street campaign against Thaksin.

"The country needs a strong economy, society and stable government. Coups will ruin the country," he said.

However, as the crisis deepened with an inconclusive and then annulled election in April, his frustrations and unswerving loyalty to King Bhumibol Adulyadej started to emerge.

Loyalty to the king

"The country's problem, which originated some time ago and which has prevailed until now, has saddened His Majesty, which has upset and worried me," he was quoted as saying in a Thai paper.

"As a soldier of His Majesty, I would like to help him relieve his worry and the Army would adhere strictly to whatever advice he gives us," he said.

Analysts said the promotion of a Muslim to head of the army appeared to be a deliberate attempt to resolve a separatist insurgency in Thailand's Malay-majority far south, where more than 1,700 people have died in 2 years of violence.

However, the native of central Thailand rejected the notion, saying he had been appointed purely on his track record.

"I'd rather use the mouth and negotiations than weapons to fight the insurgency," he said on his appointment, which was expected to last for two years before his retirement at the age of 60, as is standard in the Thai military.

Last week, he organized a peace rally in the south and opened the door to potential negotiations with the still unknown leaders of the insurgency a stance that put him at direct loggerheads with his political masters.

Perhaps sensing rumblings within the ranks, Thaksin made sure Sonthi was at his side when he made a surprise trip at the start of August to see leaders of the military junta in neighbouring Myanmar.

Last week, Sonthi returned alone to the generals' new jungle stronghold in the heart of the former Burma, although insisted on his departure for the three-day visit he was going only to forge closer military ties.

Locals take events in their stride

Despite waking up yesterday to troops and tanks on the streets of Bangkok, most Thais took the military coup in their stride, hoping it would mean the end to months of political strife and division.

While the bloodless putsch against Prime Minister Thaksin came as a surprise, many people in the Thai capital saw it as a timely move to halt a deepening crisis that has left the country in political limbo for nine months.

"I'm glad the coup took place because things have been ugly for a long time," said motorcycle taxi driver Rittiporn Yomram, 36.

"The question is how long the army will hold on to power, although if they hadn't come in, this situation would only have worsened."

Military Humvees and jeeps were parked outside Bangkok's glitzy shopping malls, with troops on street corners and guarding metro stations normally thronged with thousands of commuters.

Banks, stock markets, schools and government offices were closed, while newspapers stalls were sold out after the army cancelled normal television and radio programmes.

Somsak Nurnsai, a street cleaner, said people were confused about what was going on, although he said he was confident there would be no repeat of the violent chapters of Thailand's coup-prone history.

"At first, I knew nothing, and I wasn't sure what the army was going to do when the tanks came in," he said. "I don't believe there will be violence. Thailand has come a long way since those days."

Motorcycle taxi driver Somsak Khanok, 33, said he welcomed the military's move. "People have been creating problems for months now, and as long as the army doesn't turn to violence, this revolution will be a good thing," he said.

Source: China Daily

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