BANGKOK - Thailand's coup leader received royal endorsement to lead the politically divided kingdom Monday and quickly threatened to crack down on any further agitation after a weekend of angry protests.
The palace officially appointed army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha as leader of a military junta that has deposed the government and assumed extensive powers in the Southeast Asian nation of 67 million.
"To restore peace and order in the country and for the sake of unity, the king appointed General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as head of the National Council of Peace and Order to run the country," according to a royal command, referring to the military council set up as the country's all-powerful ruling force.
The constitutional monarchy headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, commands great respect among many Thais and the king's blessing has traditionally been a key step in legitimising the country's recurring military takeovers.
The latest coup has triggered a small but growing backlash on the streets, with more than 1,000 anti-coup demonstrators marching through Bangkok on Sunday.
Dozens of protesters faced off against lines of armed soldiers. Scuffles broke out and at least two demonstrators were taken away by troops, one bleeding.
Shortly after getting the royal nod, Prayut, 60, held his first press conference as junta head and threatened to "intensify law enforcement" against anti-coup protesters who have pledged to rally in Bangkok again on Monday.
He also warned that demonstrators could be tried in tough military courts.