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Archive for Monday, October 2, 2006

Thailand’s new P.M. sworn in

October 2, 2006

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Retired army commander Gen. Surayud Chulanont was sworn in Sunday as Thailand's interim prime minister, saying he wanted to settle a bloody Muslim insurgency and heal a country divided by the policies of his predecessor.

The ruling military council running Thailand since a Sept. 19 coup appointed Surayud after ousting Thaksin Shinawatra.

"It was injustice that caused problems in politics and the south," Surayud said, referring to divisions over Thaksin's rule and to a Muslim insurgency in south Thailand. "I urge everybody to help solve the two problems and unity is needed to deal with them."

While Surayud endorsed elections scheduled for next October, a temporary constitution announced Sunday still reserved considerable powers for Thailand's coup leaders, which is expected to unnerve rights activists.

Under the new interim constitution, approved by the king, the military council gave itself the power to remove Surayud and his Cabinet, approve the selection of a National Assembly speaker and have final say on a 100-member committee that will write the next constitution.

The interim document, which replaces the 1997 charter abolished when military officers seized power from Thaksin last month, also gives "complete immunity" to the coup leaders for overthrowing the government.

Surayud, who became the country's 24th prime minister, tried to set himself apart from the brash, pro-business Thaksin by saying he would strive to balance the needs for a growing economy with the happiness of the people.

"I will focus on self-sufficiency, more than focusing on the GDP numbers," he said. "I will focus on the happiness of the people, more than the GDP."

Thaksin was in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly at the time of the bloodless coup, and is currently living in London.

Surayud's swearing in followed his endorsement by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and was widely expected.

The 63-year-old career soldier, who fought homegrown communist rebels and was sent into Cambodia on secret missions, was seen as someone who could help stabilize Thailand's political situation. He has a reputation for incorruptibility, quiet diplomacy and modest demeanor.

Pimuk Simaroj, a spokesman for Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party, said party members would "give our moral support so that he can lead our country back to normalcy."

"We believe he is someone with knowledge and ability," Pimuk said. "In our role as (a party) that has worked closely with the people, we ask him to look after the country. We expect that he will be able to do it."

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