Thai junta chief considers martial law replacement

BANGKOK - Thailand's junta chief Friday said he was considering lifting martial law, but only after passing a new order to replace it.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to the beachside resort of Hua Hin, former army chief turned Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said he had already drawn up a replacement provision.

"I have prepared for it already to be used after the martial law," he said.

"If I lift the martial law, you all will know," he added.

It is the first time Prayut has indicated a potential lifting of martial law, which bans political gatherings of more than five people and outlaws criticism of the junta.

Critics, businesses and Thailand's western allies have called for martial law to be lifted.

It was imposed two days before the military takeover that followed the ousting of Yingluck Shinawatra's democratically elected government after months of often violent street protests.

But Prayut did not elaborate on what the new order would look like.

Under the interim charter the generals signed off on after seizing power, the junta already has sweeping powers to make widespread unilateral decisions.

Prayut has vowed to return power to an elected civilian government but only once reforms to tackle corruption and curb the power of political parties are codified in a new constitution.

Rights groups say basic freedoms have fallen drastically since the military took over with critics arrested and hassled by the authorities, the press muzzled and tough lese majeste legislation increasingly used to stifle political opposition.