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Thai Coup Faces Organized Opposition


FILE - Soldiers patrol around the Royal Thai Army Headquarters as members of the Radio and Satellite Broadcasters gather in Bangkok, June 18, 2014.

FILE - Soldiers patrol around the Royal Thai Army Headquarters as members of the Radio and Satellite Broadcasters gather in Bangkok, June 18, 2014.

The first sign of organized opposition to Thailand's military coup has emerged, with an ex-government minister vowing to work with fellow dissidents to restore "democratic principles."

The formation of the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy was announced Tuesday in an open letter by Jarupong Ruangsuwan.

Jarupong was the head of the Pheu Thai party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was ousted by a Constitutional Court ruling just before the military takeover in May.

He said the new campaign will help organize resistance, both inside and outside the country, to the military, which he said was undemocratic and trying to preserve its role in politics.
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Acting foreign minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow dismissed the announcement, saying there was "only one legitimate government" in Thailand.

It is not clear where the group will be based or how it even will oppose the junta, which has cracked down harshly on any sign of protest against its takeover.

Peter Warr, a Thai expert at the Australian National University, told VOA the military is "firmly in control" for now.

"It's quite understandable that some of the Red Shirt people would be trying to form groups like this outside the reach of the military junta. But as of yet, I don't think it's important,” said Warr.

The group is made up of a coalition of ex-lawmakers, academics and others in the so-called Red Shirt movement.

The Red Shirts are generally supporters of Yingluck's brother, ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Thaksin, who is living in self-imposed exile, is not believed to have joined the anti-coup movement announced Tuesday.

Opponents of Thaksin took to the streets in November to protest Yingluck's rule, saying she was hopelessly corrupt and a puppet of her brother.

Thaksin and his allies have won every election since 2001, but his critics say he has done so by buying votes from the country's rural poor.

About 30 people died during the six months of anti-government protests, leading Army General Prayuth Chan-ocha to seize power on May 22.

The general, which heads a military that has attempted or carried out 19 coups in the last 82 years, says he has no intention of staying in power permanently, but he has also said civilian rule cannot be restored until the violence calms down and Thailand's political opponents are reconciled.

Warr believes the military does not want to stay in power long-term, since it has proven in the past to be ineffective at governing.

He said the junta should try to move the country away from an overly centralized "winner takes all" style of government toward a more provincial model that would more accurately reflect Thailand's political divide.

"The governments of the provinces are not democratically elected. That has to change. Democracy has to be decentralized to the regional level and the power of the regional provincial governments to raise revenue and in particular to spend revenue - that power has to be largely decentralized," said Warr.

Warr also said the military should stop suppressing freedom of speech and freedom of the press and committing other rights violations.

The military has detained or summoned hundreds of politicians, academics, activists and journalists from both sides of the political spectrum.

Most were released within a week or two, but only after they promised to not leave the country or engage in political activity.

Under a sweeping martial law, the junta has also imposed sweeping restrictions on the media and banned gatherings of more than five people.

On Monday, Thailand's police force offered a reward of $15 to anyone providing pictures of those thought to be displaying opposition to the coup.

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