Thai military rulers appoint advisers, shorten curfew

BANGKOK - Thailand's military rulers have appointed as advisers two powerful retired generals with palace connections and a deep antagonism towards former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is at the heart of the country's long-running political crisis.

Nearly a week after taking power to end months of anti-government protests, the military can expect gloomy economic news on Wednesday with trade and factory output data, but it has relaxed a curfew, hoping to show things are getting back to normal.

The team of advisers announced in a brief statement late on Tuesday includes a former defence minister, General Prawit Wongsuwan, and former army chief General Anupong Paochinda.

The two are towering figures in Thailand's military establishment and have close ties to coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

All three are staunch monarchists and helped oust Thaksin in a 2006 coup.

A Reuters report in December revealed that Prawit and Anupong had secretly backed the anti-government protests that undermined the government of Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. She was removed by a court on May 7 for abuse of power and the coup ousted remaining ministers on May 22.

Also among the advisers is Pridiyathorn Devakula, overseeing the economy. A former central banker, he was finance minister in an interim government after the 2006 coup when strict capital controls were introduced to hold down the baht, causing the stock market to plunge 15 per cent in one day.

The economy shrank 2.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2014 as the debilitating anti-Yingluck protests damaged confidence, consumption and investment.

Wednesday's data is likely to show industrial output fell for the 13th straight month in April and that imports tumbled 18.2 per cent from a year before. Exports may have risen marginally, according to a Reuters poll of economists, but not enough to offset the depression in the domestic economy.

The military has moved quickly to tackle economic problems, notably preparing payments for hundreds of thousands of rice farmers that the ousted government was unable to make.

The military has also tried to stifle resistance to the coup. Scores of politicians and activists have been detained since the takeover on May 22 and censorship imposed, although a seven-hour curfew it imposed from 10pm each night will from Wednesday be shortened to four hours from midnight.

There have been daily, peaceful protests against the coup in Bangkok with crowds calling for elections and confronting troops, although the number of protesters had dwindled to about 200 on Tuesday from about 1,000 on Sunday.

General Prayuth has not set an election date, saying broad reforms were needed first.

Thaksin has not commented on the coup expect to say he was saddened and hoped the military would treat everyone fairly.

Ms Yingluck has been released from detention but remains under some restrictions, officers and aides say.

Soldiers detained a former education minister, Chaturon Chaisang, on Wednesday after he had emerged from hiding to denounce the coup, saying it would only worsen conflict. He said people in detention were not being treated badly.

Years of political turmoil have polarised Thailand. The Shinawatras' strength is in the north and northeast, populous regions that have won them every election since 2001.

Some Thaksin loyalists had vowed to resist a coup and the army and police are hunting for weapons. Many Bangkok voters support the establishment and approve of the coup if it means ending Thaksin's influence. They say he is corrupt and disrespectful to the monarchy, which he denies.

Most Thais express steadfast loyalty to 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej. "This is a good coup," said Chanchai Thonprasertvej, 54, a doctor at a small pro-coup gathering at Bangkok's Democracy Monument on Tuesday. "The army can protect the land and the king. It will protect my country from Thaksin."