Thai army pledges return to democracy

The leaders of Thailand's military coup have promised to choose a new prime minister within two weeks, amid growing international calls for a swift return to democracy.

    Thailand's coup occured without violence

    Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the head of the Thai army, said it was looking at civilian candidates to replace Shinawatra Thaksin, the ousted leader who arrived in London on Wednesday.


    "I will resign as interim prime minister within two weeks, and  now we are looking for the person who will become the new prime minister," Southi told Thai national television on Wednesday.


    "The potential candidates are politically neutral and love  democracy, with the king as head of state."


    The country's military leadership also said on Wednesday that it would take a year to produce a new constitution leading to a fresh general election.


    Meanwhile, Thailand's monarchy declared their support for the army amid widespread scenes of popular support for the military's bloodless coup.


    "The general public is requested to remain calm and all civil servants and state officials to follow instructions issued by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin," a statement from the royal palace said.


    US urges swift return to democracy   


    The United States has urged a quick restoration of democracy, and warned that only then would it be willing to move forward on a free trade pact which had been under negotiation for more than two years.


    "There's no justification for a military coup in Thailand or in  any place else," said Tom Casey, the US state department deputy spokesman.

    "We certainly are extremely disappointed by this action. It's a  step backward for democracy in Thailand."


    "We want to see a resolution of this situation in accordance  with the rule of law and in accordance with democratic procedures - that certainly means the restoration of civilian rule in Thailand as  quickly as possible."


    The US government's first in-depth response to the coup came as the Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minster, arrived in London from New York.


    British officials said Thaksin's decision to travel to London had no political significance and noted that he had relatives in Britain.


    The Thai army has said that Thaksin is free to return to Thailand but said that he would be treated as a private citizen if he did.


    New constitution


    Sonthi has said that a new cabinet would form a special committee to draw up a new constitution and submit it to a referendum, after which new elections could be held.


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


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

    SOURCE: Agencies


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