09/29/2006, 00.00
THAILAND
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Thailand: ex-soldier to be new prime minister

The junta has chosen Surayud Chulanont, former army commander. The military had promised a "civilian" would lead the provisional government. The US has sanctioned Bangkok by cutting 24 million dollars worth of military aid.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The military junta that has run Thailand for the past 10 days has chosen the man to substitute deposed Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. He is Surayud Chulanont, 62 years, a former army commander and close adviser to the king. It was the Auditor-General, Jaruvan Maintaka, who confirmed rumours of his appointment, which had been circulating for days in the local press.

The new ad interim prime minister's appointment is expected to be officially announced this weekend or Monday, after it receives approval from King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Meanwhile, in response to the "change in government", the United States has cut military cooperation with Bangkok, urging the generals to call democratic elections as soon as possible.

"Yes, definitely, General Surayud is the prime minister. He is the suitable person," Jaruvan Maintaka told a group of reporters. Her announcement was carried on an official government website today. This consolidates the hypothesis that the military will not quit the political scene so fast, as promised the day after the bloodless coup d'etat on 19 September.

After seizing power, the Thai generals banned public gatherings of more than five people, dissolved parliament, the cabinet and the highest courts in the country, and assumed legislative powers, also imposing strict controls on the media. They promised elections for October 2007 and the appointment within two weeks of a civilian to head the provisional government. The appointment of Surayad would seem to fall short of this promise unless the junta considers him to a "civilian" in that he is a "retired soldier".

The presentation to the king of a bill for a new Constitution is expected this weekend. According to an anonymous source that participated in drawing up the text, the junta has conferred upon itself the authority to remove the premier and his cabinet. The military had previously stated their intention to continue to form part of the government as a "Council for National Security" geared towards "working together" with the new premier.

The coup, greeted favourably within the country, has been condemned by many western countries. The US State Department has announced a cut of 24 million dollars earmarked for military aid to Thailand. The funds were for training, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping activities.

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