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Thai Military Focuses on Economy, Warns Anti-Coup Protesters

  • VOA News

Thai soldiers scuffle with protesters during an anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, May 25, 2014.
Thailand's military took its first steps toward revitalizing a battered economy and warned protesters they will not tolerate any further rallies against its coup after a series of clashes between soldiers and protesters across the country on Sunday.

The military met with economic leaders and said nearly a million farmers owed money under the previous government's failed rice-subsidy scheme would be paid within a month.
Soldiers and police discuss how to handle a growing crowd of anti-coup protestors in front of a McDonald's restaurant in Bangkok, May 25, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)
Soldiers and police discuss how to handle a growing crowd of anti-coup protestors in front of a McDonald's restaurant in Bangkok, May 25, 2014. (Steve Herman/VOA)

Since seizing power last Thursday, the military has thrown out the constitution, censored the media and dismissed the upper house Senate, Thailand's last functioning legislature.

On Sunday, it said anyone accused of insulting the monarchy or violating its orders would face military court.

Power now lies in the hands of army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha and his junta known as the National Council for Peace and Order, and their priorities appeared to be stamping out dissent and tending to the economy.

Discussions on economy

The military held meetings on Sunday with the leaders of state and private commercial organizations, senior officials of the commerce, finance ministries and business leaders. Officials from the energy ministry, oil trade and transport companies were also summoned.

"The economy needs to recover. If there is something wrong, we have to find quick solutions," Thawatchai Yongkittikul, secretary general of the Thai Bankers' Association, told reporters, citing coup leader Prayuth.

"The burning issues that need to be solved are the rice-buying scheme and the budget plan for the 2015 fiscal year."

A rice-subsidy scheme organized by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government failed, leaving huge stockpiles of the grain and farmers are owed more than $2.5 billion. A military spokesman said it was hoped farmers would begin to get paid in one or two days and every farmer would be paid in a month.

In the first quarter of the year, the economy shrank 2.1 percent. Thais are not spending, and consumer sentiment fell to a 12-year low in the months before the coup, Reuters reported.

A military official also told 18 newspaper bosses that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, would on Monday endorse Prayuth as leader of the ruling military council, a significant formality in a country where the monarchy is the most important institution.

On Saturday, the army said the king had acknowledged the takeover.

An army spokesman warned against protests and told the media to be careful in its reporting, too.

"For those who use social media to provoke, please stop because it's not good for anyone," deputy army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said in a televised statement.

Protests continue despite ban

Army officials warned against further demonstrations saying protesters would be arrested, jailed and tried in military court.

Soldiers spread out across Bangkok on Sunday, including some of the city's busiest shopping areas, sparking scuffles and anger among hundreds of demonstrators.
Crowd cheers in Bangkok as an army loudspeaker truck leaves, May 25, 2014. Moments later so did all the soldiers. (Steve Herman/VOA).
Crowd cheers in Bangkok as an army loudspeaker truck leaves, May 25, 2014. Moments later so did all the soldiers. (Steve Herman/VOA).
In Bangkok, hundreds of soldiers, most with riot shields, lined up to contain a crowd and there was some shouting and pushing and at least two people were detained.

By late afternoon about 1,000 people had gathered at the Victory Monument, a central city hub. A Reuters witness said trucks mounted with water cannon were on stand-by.

Prayuth's junta dissolved the kingdom's partly elected Senate on Saturday, one day after he named himself prime minister. The army chief said the moves are necessary to restore public order and push through political reforms.

The ruling military also announced Saturday it will continue to detain Yingluck and other ousted government officials for up to a week.

The coup has drawn international criticism. The U.S. Defense Department announced Saturday it is canceling ongoing U.S. military exercises with Thailand, as well as planned visits by U.S. and Thai military officials.

Spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said U.S. law and "democratic principles" require the U.S. to reconsider its military assistance and engagements.

US reaction

The U.S. had already suspended $3.5 million in military aid to Thailand as a result of the coup.

The U.S. State Department also warned U.S. citizens against non-essential travel to the country.

The Pentagon spokesman Saturday called on the Thai army to end its coup and "restore to the people of Thailand both the principles and the process of democratic rule, including a clear path forward to elections."

Thailand has been wracked by six months of political disputes and sometimes violent demonstrations. A court ordered Yingluck to step down earlier this month on charges of nepotism.

Her replacement, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who had taken over as prime minister on an acting basis, is also reportedly in military custody.

Thailand's army has staged 12 coups in the last 80 years.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

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