Fri, May 30, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Thai junta rules out early polls

SILENCING CRITICS:With daily protests against the coup continuing in Bangkok, the army’s deputy chief of staff said it was ‘impossible’ to set a date for elections

AP and AFP, BANGKOK

Thailand’s new ruling junta yesterday said it has no desire to “cling to power,” but also has no clear timeframe for when it will allow free elections.

One week after staging a coup, the army called a news conference for foreign media in an apparent effort to respond to international criticism. However, senior army officials at the event offered no road map for guiding the country back to democratic rule.

“We will definitely have an election,” said Lieutenant General Chatchalerm Chalermsukh, the army’s deputy chief of staff.

“This will take some time. If you ask me how long it will take, that’s difficult to answer,” he added.

The peaceful coup on Thursday last week overthrew an elected government that won a landslide vote three years earlier. The army says it had to act to restore order after seven months of increasingly violent political turbulence that left at least 28 people dead and more than 800 injured in grenade attacks, gunfights and drive-by shootings.

In the past week, the junta has acted to silence its critics and has warned that it will not tolerate dissent.

It has summoned more than 250 people, including members of the government it ousted and other leading political figures, journalists, academics and activists seen as critical of the regime. Roughly 70 people are still in custody.

Several political figures, mostly on the pro-government side, were held incommunicado for a week and freed only after signing a waiver agreeing not to say or do anything that could stir conflict.

Foreign broadcasters like CNN and the BBC have been blocked, and several Thai news outlets have been shut down or are practicing self-censorship.

The military has said it will crack down on online speech it considers inflammatory. It denied responsibility for a brief and partial shutdown of Facebook in Thailand on Wednesday, but it has begun targeting Web sites deemed threatening.

The moves have been widely criticized by the global community.

“We are following current developments with extreme concern,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

“We urge the military leadership to free all those who have been detained for political reasons in recent days and to remove censorship,” Ashton said.

Chatchalerm yesterday sought to reassure that the army did not intend to stay in power long.

“We neither have any ambition or desire to cling to power, because we already have a lot of responsibilities to take care of,” he said.

Almost daily protests against the coup have taken place in Bangkok. They have been small, but increasingly tense.

Hundreds gathered on Wednesday at the city’s Victory Monument, where scuffles broke out in which water bottles and other objects were hurled at soldiers, and a green army Humvee was vandalized with large white letters reading, “NO COUP. GET OUT.”

“Today there are still protests. It shows that some people want to create turmoil. So it’s impossible to hold elections at the moment,” Chatchalerm said.

The only ousted government official to condemn the coup, Thai Minister Chaturon Chaisang, was detained immediately after he did so and military authorities said he would be charged with failing to respond to a summons to report to the army.

His expected trial before a military court has drawn strong criticism from Human Rights Watch, among others, who called it a “travesty of justice.”

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