Thai junta chief Prayut threatens to hold onto power indefinitely

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's junta chief warned detractors Wednesday that he would hold onto power indefinitely if they continued to oppose his plans for the kingdom in a heated press briefing ahead of an overseas trip.

Prayut Chan-Ocha, who was appointed as prime minister a few months after seizing power in a coup last May, appeared irritated when he met reporters shortly before flying to Brunei, frequently raising his voice and shaking his head.

"If the situation remains like this I can tell you that I will hold on to power for a long time," he said after denouncing those who criticise the country's lack of democratic progress. "Why is there all this fuss about elections?" he also asked. "(If there's no election) will anyone die?"

The former army chief imposed martial law two days before the military takeover that followed the ousting of Yingluck Shinawatra's democratically elected government after months of often violent street protests.

He has vowed to return power to an elected civilian government but only once reforms to tackle corruption and curb the power of political parties are codified in a new constitution.

Rights groups say basic freedoms have fallen off a cliff since the military took over with political gatherings banned, the press muzzled and tough lese majeste legislation increasingly used to stifle political opposition.

Prayut, a blunt-speaking career army man, has little time for such criticisms.

While he often jokes with his press pack he also gets irritated when reporters push him for answers during daily briefings.

"I want to tell all of you that I am not discouraged but I am getting more angry. I am a fighter. So don't say anything to discourage me," he said during Wednesday's press meeting.

Earlier this month the Thai Journalists Association criticised Prayut for saying he wanted to punch a reporter "in the face" when he was pressed on his government's results.

In December he was also filmed throwing a banana skin at a camera man, though that incident caused more merriment than concern.

His off the cuff remarks often spark a mixture of surprise and derision.

This week he was lampooned online - and even in some sections of the mainstream media - for insisting Thailand under martial law was still a "99.99 percent" democracy.

In October he also apologised after suggesting pretty tourists in bikinis could be more vulnerable to attack following the murder of a young British couple on a resort island - a remark that caused international anger.