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Thai junta chief given seal of approval by the country's royal family

Sights are now being set on bringing growing protests under control.

Image: AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn

THAILAND’S COUP LEADER has received royal endorsement to lead the politically divided kingdom and quickly threatened to crack down on any further agitation after a weekend of angry protests.

The palace officially appointed army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha as leader of a military junta that has deposed the government and assumed extensive powers in the Southeast Asian nation of 67 million.

“To restore peace and order in the country and for the sake of unity, the king appointed General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as head of the National Council of Peace and Order to run the country,” according to a royal command, referring to the military council set up as the country’s all-powerful ruling force.

The constitutional monarchy headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, commands great respect among many Thais and the king’s blessing has traditionally been a key step in legitimising the country’s recurring military takeovers.

The latest coup has triggered a small but growing backlash on the streets, with more than 1,000 anti-coup demonstrators marching through Bangkok on Sunday.

Dozens of protesters faced off against lines of armed soldiers. Scuffles broke out and at least two demonstrators were taken away by troops, one bleeding.

Shortly after getting the royal nod, Prayut, 60, held his first press conference as junta head and threatened to “intensify law enforcement” against anti-coup protesters who have pledged to rally in Bangkok again on Monday.

He also warned that demonstrators could be tried in tough military courts.

The junta has detained former premier Yingluck Shinawatra along with about 200 ousted government leaders, political figures, critics and academics in a sweeping roundup since the coup, which has drawn sharp international criticism.

Thailand Politics Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks at the start of his first press conference since Thursday's coup. Source: AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

An army commander has indicated Yingluck remained under military control, but declined to reveal her whereabouts.

“We are taking care of her. She is fine. She can choose to stay wherever she wants,” Lieutenant General Thirachai Nakwanich, central region army commander, told AFP when asked of Yingluck’s fate.

Yingluck was ousted by a court ruling earlier this month, but her embattled government had remained in place until last week under a caretaker premier.

In one of the first legal steps taken against a prominent detainee since the coup, the attorney general’s office granted bail to Suthep Thaugsuban, a firebrand leader of nearly seven months of anti-government protests, over an insurrection charge, according to one of his lawyers.

He was still to face court on Monday on a separate outstanding murder charge linked to a bloody military crackdown on opposition protests against a previous government in 2010.

Under the junta, civil liberties have been curbed, media restrictions imposed and most of the constitution abrogated. Prayut also has assumed all authority for making laws.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Thailand’s coup leaders to hold ousted government to give them “time to think” >

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