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Thailand: Coup leader threatens crackdown

Thai coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has threatened to use force if political protests flare up again.

Thai farmers’ battle with soldiers as they protest the government’s repeatedly delayed payments for rice submitted to the pledging scheme at the government’s temporary office in Bangkok on 17 February, 2014. Picture: AFP.

BANGKOK - Thai coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Monday he had been formally endorsed by the king as head of a military council that will run the country, and warned he would use force if political protests flared up again.

Prayuth seized power on 22 May, saying the army would restore order after nearly seven months of sometimes deadly street demonstrations. The military has since taken into custody of scores of politicians, activists, academics and others.

"Will we go back to where we were before? If you want to do that, I will need to use force and impose the law strictly," Prayuth said in a statement he read on television. "You will have to forgive any tough measures as they are necessary."

He did not set a timeframe for how long the army would stay in power, although he said he hoped to hold elections soon.

The royal endorsement is a significant formality in Thailand, where the monarchy is the most important institution.

Prayuth's address is likely to provoke conflicting reaction in a country polarised by nearly a decade of rivalry between the royalist establishment, of which Prayuth is a member, and Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist tycoon who broke the political mould.

Prayuth, wearing a formal white dress uniform, said he would set up a council of advisers but gave no details on the form of the new government that will run the country under his military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order.

"The country needs a prime minister. If we go back and look at the past there is a way to do this but there might be some changes to the process in order to create legitimacy," he said.

The military ousted the remnants of a government that had been led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, until she was removed by a court on 7 May for abuse of power.