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Thai Generals Tighten Grip on Power


Thailand's ruling generals tightened their grip on power by firing and arresting key aides of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown by a military coup earlier this week.

The military on Friday detained former Cabinet ministers, fired the national police board and began forming a panel to probe corruption charges against former Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra.

The generals announced they had formed a new police board to be headed by the national police chief, who took part in Tuesday's bloodless coup.

Coup leaders have pledged to select a new civilian prime minister in two weeks, who will form an interim government and draft a new constitution.

The military has declared martial law, placed restrictions on the media, and banned large public gatherings and political party meetings.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says the ruling junta will continue to strengthen its hold in the coming days.

"The days ahead are crucial for the generals. They have to consolidate power and come up with evidence, strong evidence, insurmountable evidence that Thaksin was corrupt," he said.

The ruling junta has justified the coup by saying Mr. Thaksin was corrupt, and his government was dividing the nation.

Anti-Thaksin anger gathered momentum earlier this year, after the prime minister sold his telecommunications company for nearly $2 billion, and legally avoided paying taxes on the deal.

Massive demonstrations pushed Mr. Thaksin to call snap elections in April. The opposition boycotted, and eventually the courts nullified the results.

But Mr. Thaksin remains popular in the countryside and among the poor.

Thitinan, the political scientist, says the junta needs to find a way to control dissent to keep its hold on power, but must not alienate people by limiting freedoms.

"This puts the generals between a rock and a hard place," he said. "On the one hand, they need to clamp down, they need to restrict all kinds of freedoms - not suppress everyone - but to keep Thaksin supporters from coming out, because a counter-coup is still very much possible in the immediate days ahead."

A group of several dozen students and activists held a protest Friday afternoon denouncing the coup and defying the ban on public gatherings. But police standing nearby simply watched, as the demonstrators read their statement and then left.

Governments around the world have condemned Tuesday's coup.

The United States has said there was no justification for the coup, and that it will review its aid to Thailand.

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