Monday, October 4, 2010

New Thai army chief takes helm with royal pledge

Thailand's powerful new military chief -- thought to take a hardline view of anti-government "Red Shirts" -- vowed to protect the country's monarchy in a ceremony Thursday to mark his appointment.
General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who officially starts work on Friday, is the Thai army's 37th commander-in-chief and takes the helm at a crucial juncture for the country following the deadliest political unrest in decades.
"I am ready to govern my subordinates fairly and will strive to develop the army to be prepared to maintain Thailand's sovereignty and protect the monarchy," he told soldiers at army headquarters in Bangkok.
Thailand remains deeply divided after deadly April and May protests, while a recent string of grenade blasts in Bangkok and the brief return of thousands of Red Shirts to the streets have stoked fears of continuing political crisis.
Revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, seen by some Thais as a demigod, has been a stabilising force for the country but he turns 83 in December and has been hospitalised for a year.
Prayut, 56, is seen as a strong opponent of the Red movement, whose protests descended into clashes between demonstrators and troops that left 91 people dead, mostly civilians.
He is reported to have overseen the deadly military assault on the protesters' fortified encampment in the retail heart of Bangkok in May.
Prayut, who could serve up to four years, said he would carry on the policies of his predecessor, General Anupong Paojinda, whose three-year term saw four prime ministers govern in a period of turmoil in Thailand.
Both men were central to the 2006 coup that ousted tycoon-turned-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is hailed by the Reds for his policies for the masses but seen by the establishment as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.
During the Red crisis, Anupong appeared reluctant to use force to disperse the demonstrators, calling for a political solution in a country that has seen 18 coups or attempted coups since 1932.
Anupong, who appeared at the ceremony to officially hand over power, said that while he had faced "several complicated missions" during his tenure, cooperation from the army had made "all of those missions a success".

from AFP