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Generals in Thailand Find Strong Support, at Least for Now

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Thai military leaders say their seizure of power Tuesday was necessary to unite a nation divided by months of political tension. Eighty percent of Thais in a public opinion study approved of the ouster of Thaksin Shinawatra after five years as prime minister.

But some Thais are concerned about the military’s return to power in a nation that has grown deeply involved in the world economy.

About one hundred protesters gathered in Bangkok Friday. Many carried signs and denounced the overthrow as undemocratic. Police took no action, although the ruling generals have banned public meetings of five or more people. They have also banned political activities and placed restrictions on the media.

The generals have promised to appoint a civilian as temporary prime minister within two weeks, and to hold elections in October of next year.

Thailand has had eighteen coups or coup attempts since nineteen thirty-two. That year, King Prajadhipok signed the first constitution for the nation then called Siam. He did so after government workers and military officers led a peaceful coup to demand a constitution.

The military last seized power in nineteen ninety-one. General Suchinda Kraprayoon overthrew an elected civilian government. The next year, he was ousted following street demonstrations. Since then, democracy has increased and the military’s influence in politics has decreased -- until this week.

The army, led by General Sondhi Boonyaratglin, took power peacefully. Mister Thaksin was in New York for a United Nations meeting. General Sondhi received a statement of support from King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The military has been holding allies of Mister Thaksin, and on Friday appointed a group to gather evidence of wrongdoing by his administration.

Mister Thaksin became one of Thailand's richest people as a businessman in technology. Yet the poor were among his strongest supporters. Many others called him dishonest and hungry for power.

Also, Thailand is facing a violent rebellion in Muslim-majority provinces in the south. Mister Thaksin appointed General Sondhi, himself a Muslim, as army chief last year. The general thought the prime minister was dealing too aggressively with the rebels.

Mister Thaksin, in his first public statement after his ouster, said in London that he wanted to take a rest from politics.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer called the overthrow unacceptable. The Japanese government called it regrettable. And Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he was shocked by the events.

The United States criticized the overthrow as unjustified and said it was re-examining aid to Thailand. Thailand is a close ally, but United States laws require such action when a military overthrows civilian elected leaders. State Department officials called the military coup a step backward for democracy in Thailand.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Brianna Blake. I’m Steve Ember.