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Thai military ruler to meet advisers on security, economy

Published on May 29, 2014 9:36 AM
 
Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha addresses reporters at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok on May 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand's military chief is due to meet a team of advisers for the first time on Thursday to map out a strategy for securing the country and propping up a stumbling economy a week after he seized power.

Among the advisers appointed on Tuesday are two retired generals, powerful establishment figures hostile towards former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in self-exile, but is at the centre of Thailand's current political turbulence.

"General Prayuth has called his advisers for talks at 10 am," said a senior military officer who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

"They will discuss the division of responsibilities, what they'll look after."

General Prayuth Chan-ocha ousted the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister, on May 22 to end months of protests that had depressed Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy and raised fears of enduring chaos.

Data on Wednesday showed trade shrank in April and factory output fell for the 13th straight month, underscoring the tough job the military government faces in averting recession.

Since seizing power the military has detained 200 or more people, although most have now been freed, including Yingluck, Suthep Thaugsuban, who led the protest movement against her, and leaders of the militant pro-Thaksin "red shirts".

Those released have to tell the military of their whereabouts and travel plans and have promised not to organise demonstrations, a military spokesman said.

Despite martial law and a ban on gatherings, small protests against the military takeover have been held daily in Bangkok. They have been rowdy at times but there has been no serious violence.

The military has warned about the spread of what it calls provocative information on social media and on Wednesday Thai Facebook users were shocked when the site went down.

The Information Communications Technology Ministry said it had blocked access at the request of the military to halt online criticism. But the site quickly came back up and a military spokeswoman blamed the interruption on a gateway glitch.

Technology ministry officials are due to met representatives of social media platforms on Thursday "to ask for cooperation".

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The junta's team of advisers includes a former defence minister, General Prawit Wongsuwan, and former army chief General Anupong Paochinda.

The two are towering figures in Thailand's military establishment and have close ties to Prayuth. All three are staunch monarchists and helped oust Thaksin in 2006.

A Reuters report in December revealed Prawit and Anupong had secretly backed the anti-government protests that undermined Yingluck's government. She was removed by a court on May 7 for abuse of power and the coup ousted remaining ministers.

It is not clear what powers Prayuth's advisers will have, but their appointment would suggest little prospect of compromise with the Shinawatras.

Another adviser is Pridiyathorn Devakula, overseeing the economy. A former central bank governor, he was finance minister in an interim government after the 2006 coup when strict capital controls were introduced to hold down the baht, causing the stock market to tumble 15 percent in one day.

Narongchai Akrasanee, chairman of an asset management firm and an independent member of the Bank of Thailand's monetary policy committee, has also been made an adviser on the economy.

The junta has not set any timetable for elections, saying broad reforms are needed first.

That may complicate relations with foreign governments.

In a statement dated May 28, the European Union called for a return to democracy, an end to censorship and the release of all political detainees.

"Only an early and credible roadmap for a return to constitutional rule and elections will allow for the EU's continuous support," it said.

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