BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's coup leader and newly appointed premier Prayuth Chan-ocha on Sunday received royal endorsement for a Cabinet stacked with soldiers, as the military extended its reach into the kingdom's politics.
Nearly a third of the 32-strong Cabinet are senior military officers. Among them are General Prayuth's close allies and key players in the recent years of political turbulence, including generals involved in the bloody 2010 crackdown on "Red Shirt" activists.
Former and serving generals will head the defence, justice, foreign affairs and commerce ministries, while an air marshal will take the top post at the transport department.
The civilian portion of the Cabinet includes longstanding allies of the military, such as Mr Sommai Pasri who returns to lead the finance ministry - a post he was given following the nation's last coup in 2006.
"His majesty has endorsed the Cabinet members," put forward by Gen Prayuth, according to a royal decree released late Sunday.
Last week revered but ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, formally endorsed Gen Prayuth as premier.
Gen Prayuth's predecessor as army chief, General Anupong Paochinda, was appointed interior minister - responsible for internal security.
Thailand's junta has muzzled dissent since seizing power in May from Ms Yingluck Shinawatra. The appointment of Gen Anupong, who played a key role in the crackdown on Red Shirts protesting in Bangkok four years ago, is likely to be seen as a sign of a continuing tough line on political opponents.
Another close ally, retired General Prawit Wongsuwan, returns to the defence ministry which he headed under the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, which was humbled at the polls by Ms Yingluck in 2011.
Gen Prayuth says he was forced to take power after months of protests against Ms Yingluck's elected government left nearly 30 people dead and hundreds more wounded, paralysing policy-making, cramping the economy and frightening off tourists.
He has ruled out holding new elections before October next year, despite international appeals for a return to democracy, vowing first to oversee reforms said to be aimed at cleaning up politics and society.
Opponents of the government overthrown by the army want those reforms to target billionaire exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family including sister Yingluck - whom they accuse of corruption and crony capitalism.
Shinawatra loyalists have been purged from key ministries, provincial governments, state industries and the police.
But critics have questioned whether a Cabinet of military heavyweights can heal the nation's deep political rupture.
Figures such as Gen Anupong and General Dapong Ratanasuwan - who is the new environment and natural resources minister - are reviled by the Thaksin-loyalist Red Shirts for their roles in the 2010 crackdown which left scores dead in Bangkok.
Thaksin draws support from the rural north and north-east and Bangkok's middle and working classes, who praise him for having recognised their changing social and economic aspirations.
Gen Prayuth's reliance on soldiers in his Cabinet may draw Thais "to unite" and "ironically... help to breathe new life into support for Thaksin", said Mr Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South-east Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai.