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Thailand Names Interim Premier

A retired army chief is sworn in, but leaders of the recent coup still wield substantial power.

October 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

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

Surayud was appointed by the ruling military council, which has been running Thailand since it ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Sept. 19.

The council also recalled troops and tanks from the streets for the first time since the coup.

"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 southern Thailand. "I urge everybody to help solve the two problems, and unity is needed to deal with them."

Although Surayud endorsed elections scheduled for next year, a temporary constitution announced Sunday left substantial power in the hands of coup leaders.

Under the 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 a new constitution.

The interim document also gives the coup leaders "complete immunity" from prosecution for overthrowing the government.

Surayud, a 63-year-old career soldier, has a reputation for incorruptibility, quiet diplomacy and modesty.

"Surayud is a highly respected figure. He's known for his integrity," said Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

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

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