Thai coup: Leader Gen Prayuth receives royal endorsement

Jonathan Head said General Prayuth would have needed Royal endorsement

Thailand's military leader has received royal endorsement at a ceremony in the capital, Bangkok, after taking power in a coup last week.

Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was formally appointed to run the nation at the army headquarters.

The 86-year-old monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, did not attend the ceremony.

The military seized power in the South East Asian nation last week, saying it planned to return stability to Thailand after months of unrest.

The move followed six months of political deadlock as protesters tried to oust the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. At least 28 people were killed and several hundred injured over the course of the protests.

But the coup - which removed an elected government - has drawn widespread international criticism.

Small anti-coup protests took place in Bangkok over the weekend, despite a military ban on gatherings of more than five people.

Thai army soldiers move out from a city centre anti-coup rally on 25 May 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand Soldiers have been deployed in the Thai capital amid anti-coup protests over the weekend
Protesters chant slogans during a city centre anti-coup rally on 25 May 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand Supporters of the ousted government have been incensed by the coup

Experts have also warned that the coup is unlikely to heal divisions in a nation in which politics have become highly polarised.

'No benefit'

Gen Prayuth, dressed in white military uniform, received the royal endorsement on Monday morning.

"To restore peace and order in the country and for sake of unity, the king appointed Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as head of the National Council of Peace and Order to run the country," the royal command seen by AFP news agency said.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas was caught up in a Bangkok street scuffle

The monarchy is highly respected and royal endorsement is seen as key to legitimising the takeover.

Speaking afterwards, Gen Prayuth said the most important thing was "to keep peace and order in the country''.

Elections would take place as soon as possible, he said, but gave no timeframe. He also said he would have no choice but to use force if protests continued.

The ruling junta is expected to set up a national legislative assembly that will draw up a temporary constitution with a new prime minister.

Since taking power the military has summoned and detained dozens of key political figures, including Ms Yingluck. Journalists and academics are also among those who have been called in.

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Jonathan Head, BBC News, Bangkok

No coup in Thailand has succeeded without the blessing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej - there have been 12 during his 64 years on the throne. So this ceremony was very important for General Prayuth - until this morning he had only had an acknowledgement that the king had been informed of his coup.

He is now the official ruler of Thailand - but big questions remain over how he and his generals will run a country whose once fast-growing economy has faltered during seven months of political unrest.

Already there have been small but vocal protests against the coup in Bangkok; there is likely to be stronger opposition in the north and north-east of the country, where support for the ousted government is still high.

The military says it will strictly enforce the ban on demonstrations. Using force against them, though, risks stirring more public anger, but tolerating them might embolden the military's opponents.

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Suthep Thaugsuban, who has been leading the protests against the government, has since been released by the military. However, he is still facing charges.

Meanwhile, it was not immediately clear where Ms Yingluck was being held.

Tight controls have also been placed on the media.

The current deadlock dates from 2006, when the military ousted Ms Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, in a coup.

Mr Thaksin and Ms Yingluck have strong support in rural areas, propelling them to successive election victories.

But they are bitterly opposed by many in the middle class and urban elite, who formed the heart of the protest movement that began working to oust Ms Yingluck in November 2013.

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