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New PM in 2 weeks: Thai coup leader

india Updated: Sep 20, 2006 23:02 IST
Reuters
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Thailand's military coup leaders will choose a new prime minister within two weeks and step back from power, army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin said on Wednesday.

But, speaking less than 24 hours after he led a bloodless coup to oust billionaire Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Sonthi said it would take a year to produce a new constitution leading to a fresh general election.

The military leadership was poring over candidates who loved "democracy and constitutional monarchy" to replace Thaksin, ousted on Tuesday as he attended the United Nations in New York.

"We have two weeks. After two weeks, we step out," Sonthi told a news conference, speaking as head of an interim "Political Reform Council" run by the military.

The new cabinet would form a special committee to draw up a new constitution over a year and submit it to a referendum, after which new elections could be held, he said.

"It will take a year to draft a new constitution," Sonthi said.

Political reform is considered essential by Thaksin's foes to allow what they say are supposed to be independent state agencies such as the election commission to be purged of his allies.

Not a shot was fired in the coup and the streets of Bangkok were quiet on Wednesday with very little military presence except around Government House and nearby army headquarters.

Concerns about a conflict or even a counter-coup by Thaksin's supporters were dampened by news that Thaksin's main deputy, Chidchai Vanasatidya, had been "invited to stay" at Army Headquarters.

Thaksin was welcome to return to his homeland, Sonthi said.

"Thaksin is a Thai and a fellow countryman and there will be no problem should he decide to return," he said.

Thaksin had chartered a Russian plane to fly him and his entourage from New York to London, where one of his daughters was studying, a reporter traveling with him said.

Shock, Disppointment

Leaders around the world expressed shock and disappointment at the sudden overthrow of Thaksin, whose huge popularity in the countryside gave him two landslide election wins.

The United States, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand condemned as undemocratic Thailand's first coup in 15 years but its 18th since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

But analysts said even though the outside world might view it as a step back, it might prove to be a step forward if it cleared the way out of what many saw as an intractable political deadlock threatening the stability of the nation.

"This coup will be different from the previous coups," said Somchai Pakapatwiwat of Bangkok's Thammasat University.

"Before, it was done in the interests of the military. This time, it was a necessary pre-emptive strike given the violent polarization of Thai society."

The Thai stock market was closed on Wednesday after the coup leaders declared a one-day holiday.

The baht, which suffered its biggest one-day fall in three years after the coup, remained under pressure but rebounded somewhat to just off a 6-1/2-week high.

The military said the coup was necessary to institute reforms to resolve a political stalemate that pitted Thaksin against the political old guard and street campaigners, who accused him of subverting democracy for his family and friends in big business.

Thaksin argued he was democracy's defender against opponents using unconstitutional means.

Late on Tuesday, television showed the armed forces chiefs heading in a motorcade to the palace to report to revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, images likely to dampen any agitation in the countryside by associating the coup with the crown.

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