BANGKOK - The former president of the toppled Thai ruling party on Tuesday launched the first official opposition group to the nation's coup-making junta, bidding to draw together dissidents within the country and outside its borders.
Jarupong Ruangsuwan, who was president of the Puea Thai party as well as a senior minister, will lead the "Organistation of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy" from self-exile in an unnamed country, according to a declaration marking the group's founding.
Thailand's junta has muzzled dissent within the country, summoning and detaining hundreds of people, the majority linked with the deposed government of ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra and her administration's "Red Shirt" supporters.
In a statement by the group signed by Jarupong, and seen by AFP, he decried the coup as "grand larceny".
"The junta has violated the rule of law, abused democratic principles, and destroyed your rights, liberties, and human dignity," he said.
The group will fight to restore democracy and resist any moves by the establishment-backed junta to rig the political system in its favour, he added.
A coalition of former lawmakers, academics, Red Shirt figures and other opponents of the May 22 army power grab, have also joined the group - which will be based outside of Thailand in an unnamed country.
"The people are demanding a fightback," group spokesman Jakrapob Penkair, a former government minister and founding member of the Red Shirt movement, told AFP via Skype from London on Monday.
"We will provide psychological support for all anti-coup, democratic groups inside and outside Thailand. We will provide assistance and encouragement to all demonstrators against the coup... but not of the violent kind." "This is just the start," he said, adding the billionaire former premier and Red Shirt hero Thaksin Shinawatra had not joined the group.
Thailand has suffered a political rupture since Thaksin, Yingluck's older brother, swept to power in 2001 on a wave of support from the nation's rural, poor north and northeast.
The Shinawatras' electoral success sent panic through the Bangkok-based royalist elite - and its supporters in the military - who accuse the family of abusing democracy to sponsor massive graft and cronyism.
Thaksin was deposed in a 2006 coup and lives in self-exile to avoid jail for a corruption conviction, although his political affiliates have continued to sweep the polls.
His sister was deposed by a controversial court order shortly before May's coup, which the army said was necessary to restore order following several months of sometimes-deadly street protests in Bangkok.
Coup-leading Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha has smothered dissent, imposing sweeping controls of the media and detaining or warning hundreds of people to aver protest and political action.
Thai police on Monday offered a $15 reward to anyone providing photographic or video evidence to help convict anti-coup protesters who have gathered in small but increasingly creative flashmobs.
In the latest strike on freedom of expression, a lone man reading George Orwell's anti-authoritarian novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" was arrested on Sunday.