Thailand’s coup leader Monday said the palace has endorsed his takeover of the government. The army chief who carried out the bloodless putsch last week also issued a warning about any challenges to military rule.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, clad in a dress white uniform, appeared in an army auditorium following the issuance of a royal command declaring him to be the “head of the National Council of Peace and Order to run the country.”
The document states that the army chief had warned the palace that violence in Bangkok and other parts of the country was likely to spread and may "jeopardize national security."
The general told reporters he “hopes the problems will be solved soon so we can return to the right democratic system.”
The army chief said it is preferable to have a prime minister and elections soon, but he is giving no timeline for achieving that.
The press conference was followed by news that the military had released former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, although it is not clear if she is able to move about freely from her home.
The junta has also allowed opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban to be freed on bail after being charged with rebellion.
Suthep and Yingluck were among dozens of Thai politicians who were taken into custody on Friday. It is not clear how many are still being held.
The general seized power last Thursday, ousting the caretaker cabinet, two days after he declared martial law. These actions came following more than six months of political turmoil and low scale but sometimes fatal violence at sites where rival rallies were being held.
The head of the junta is now directly cautioning the media and people communicating online not to incite conflict. The general also warns that soldiers will forcefully crack down on any further political protests.
Over the past several days, small but vocal crowds - composed of hundreds of people - have gathered to oppose the coup in Bangkok.
Soldiers and police have been restrained and ultimately not confronted the demonstrators, who appeared mostly to be ordinary citizens, not the hard-core protesters seen at organized rallies in the past.
But a Sunday protest did include some recognizable organizers from the red shirt movement, which supported the ousted government of ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was taken into military custody last week.
Among those at the anti-coup rally Sunday which occupied for several hours a McDonald’s restaurant was a woman who only wanted to be identified as Belle.
“It's ordinary people just who are anti the coup just come out. That's it, no leaders. So everyone who is responsible for this country, just comes out,” said Belle, who said it was hard to predict what would come next. “It's very difficult to gauge the situation at the moment because the junta government is very, very fierce at the moment. So we're going to continue to protest like this.”
Receiving the blessing of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as Rama IX) is a critical step in establishing the ruling junta’s legitimacy. Past coup attempts in Thailand that did not earn the King’s blessing ultimately failed to overthrow the country’s sitting government.
The King, who is revered among many in Thailand as a demigod, has not appeared in public since last week’s military takeover. The coup leaders said Monday that the 86-year-old monarch was not in the capital and did not meet in person with General Prayuth.