Coup leader vows to restore democracy

Thailand’s monarch on Thursday confirmed coup leader Sonthi Boonyarataklin as the head of the interim government.

The army chief behind Thailand’s coup said on Wednesday he would step down in two weeks and promised fresh elections next year.

A day after ousting Thaksin Shinawatra, the country’s controversial prime minister, General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin said he would appoint an interim prime minister to run the country until parliamentary elections under a new constitution in October 2007.

Gen Sonthi said that the Council for Administrative Reform – the name the coup leaders have given themselves – had “no intention of running the country by itself, and will return power, under the constitutional monarchy, to the people as soon as possible”.

He added that the military was considering possible candidates for prime minister. “We want a person who loves democracy and constitutional monarchy,” he told a news conference.

An announcement broadcast on Thai television on Wednesday night said that Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej backed the country’s new leadership. But the US appeared to take issue with the coup leaders’ decision to hold no new elections for more than a year.

“We very much urge that democratic elections be held as soon as possible,” the State Department said.

While tanks remained in position at Thailand’s Government House on Wednesday, other parts of Bangkok were quiet as Thais stayed at home on what was declared a holiday. The military has banned gatherings of more than five people, and human rights activists expressed concern about civil liberties.

Mr Thaksin, who had been visiting New York for the annual meeting of the United Nations, flew to London, where he owns a flat and his daughter attends university. Diplomats said the ousted prime minister could face prosecution if he returned home.

The British government said it had no reason not to allow Mr Thaksin into the country and has not to date received any request for his extradition. A spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the British government considered Mr Thaksin the legitimate prime min-ister. However, the European Union called for the military to “give way to the democratically elected political government”.

Gen Sonthi told foreign diplomats that there would not be a “witch hunt” against Mr Thaksin’s loyalists. But Chitchai Wannasathit, a deputy prime minister, and Thammarak Issrangkura Na Ayutthaya, the defence minister, both members of Mr Thaksin’s inner circle, are said to be in army custody as are several other of his key allies.

Mr Thaksin “caused an unprecedented rift in society, widespread corruption, nepotism and he interfered in independent agencies, crippling them,” Gen Sonthi said on television.

Foreign investors indicated that Thailand would quickly get back to business.

“Thailand’s economy is fundamentally strong and financial market reactions have been limited,” said Rodrigo Rato, International Monetary Fund managing director.

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