BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thai coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha will receive the endorsement of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Monday as head of a ruling military council and the general will then give his first address to the nation since seizing power last week.
The royal command ceremony, a significant formality in a country where the monarchy is the most important institution, will begin at 10.49am (11.49 am Singapore time), the army said. It gave no reason for that time but it is likely it is deemed auspicious.
General Prayuth will outline steps he intends to take, including the proclamation of an interim constitution and the setting up of a legislative council, the military said, wthout elaborating.
General Prayuth's address is likely to be viewed with conflicting attitudes in a country polarised by nearly a decade of rivalry between the royalist establishment, of which he is a member, and a populist politician who broke the political mould.
The military seized power last Thursday to end six months of sometimes violent protests against the populist government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. But it has taken over with a heavy hand, detaining perhaps scores of people, most allied with Ms Yingluck's government, throwing out the constitution, dissolving the Senate and censoring media.
Anyone who insults the monarchy or violates the military's orders will be tried in a military court.
Despite warnings, small crowds of people voicing opposition to the May 22 coup have been gathering in Bangkok as well as in the north and northeast, strongholds of the ousted government. About 1,000 people thronged around Victory Monument, a central Bangkok hub, on Sunday, occasionally confronting lines of soldiers with riot shields, but there have been no clashes.
In what will be seen as a hopeful sign, the military has relaxed restrictions on Ms Yingluck, allowing her to go home although she is under military supervision. "She is free to come and go as she pleases, but will have to inform us as a sign of mutual respect and we will have soldiers guarding her home," a senior military official who declined to be identified said on Sunday.
But the easing on Ms Yingluck will do little to dispel concern among her supporters that the military is intent on a crackdown for reasons beyond restoring order and ending antagonism between protesters backed by the establishment and the real power behind her government, her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup after big-spending policies had won him the passionate support and votes, of the poor but the animosity of the establishment, who saw him as a corrupt, authoritarian opportunist and a threat to the old order. Thaksin was also accused of being disrespectful to the monarchy and even a closet republican, which he denied.
The former leader has said on Twitter that he was saddened by the latest events, and called on the army to treat everyone fairly. Thaksin has lived in self-exile since a 2008 graft conviction.
The crisis between the establishment and Thaksin comes amid anxiety over the issue of royal succession. The king, the world's longest-reigning monarch, is 86 and spent the years from 2009 to 2013 in hospital. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same devotion as his father, but some Thaksin supporters have recently been making a point of showing their loyalty to the prince.
Meanwhile, one Thaksin ally, ousted Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang, said he expected the military to implement steps aimed at sidelining once and for all Thaksin, his family and his allies, and blocking forever his formidable political machine, which has won every election since 2001.
"Any election after that would be meaningless," Mr Chaturon told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location on Sunday, referring to changes he expects the military to implement. "The system will be designed so no matter which party people vote for, it won't be able to form a government."
For now, the military is focusing on getting the economy back on track and ending dissent. It has summoned outspoken Thai journalists and academics and detained some of them. It has called in another 38 people on Monday, including politicians allied with Thaksin and several big-business allies of the former telecommunications tycoon.