Thailand's Military Rulers Select Former Army Officer as New Prime Minister

Thailand's military rulers have chosen Surayud Chulanont, a former army commander and close adviser to the country's powerful monarch, as interim prime minister following their coup, the auditor general was quoted as saying.

Auditor General Jaruvan Maintaka revealed the choice in comments to reporters late Thursday that were carried on an official government Web site Friday. "Yes, definitely, Gen. Surayud is the prime minister. He is the suitable person," Jaravan was quoted as saying by the Public Relations Department.

However, she later denied making those comments. When telephoned about the details on Friday, she told The Associated Press: "I didn't say so." The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled.

All Friday morning Bangkok newspapers carried headlines that Surayud would probably head the new government.

His appointment was expected to be announced this weekend or Monday, after it receives approval from King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

CountryWatch: Thailand

Surayud, a highly regarded 62-year-old retired officer, was selected by the country's ruling military council which seized power from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup Sept. 19 while the premier was abroad. The council vowed to name a civilian prime minister within two weeks.

Akara Thiroj, a spokesman for the council, said an interim constitution has already been completed and sent to the Royal Palace. He hoped the constitution could be announced Saturday or Sunday and followed by the formal announcement of the prime minister on the weekend or Monday.

"The media seems to know more than I do. Every newspaper put his name on the front page," Akara said when asked who the new prime minister would be.

The other much-touted possibility for the job had been former World Trade Organization chief Supachai Panitchpakdi, who now heads the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD.

Surayud's appointment was expected to be widely praised in Thailand.

Korn Chatikavanij, deputy general secretary of the Democrat Party, said earlier that Surayud is an "appropriate" choice.

Although being a former general might give the outside world the impression the military was merely transferring power to one of its cronies that would be neither true nor relevant, he said.

"What is important is domestic reconciliation and Gen. Surayud is ideal for that," Korn told The Associated Press.

The coup leaders accused Thaksin's of corruption and causing schisms in Thai society. His government was overthrown while he was visiting New York, and he is now in London and has not indicated if or when he may try to return to Thailand.

Large demonstrations early this year demanding his ouster — following allegations of corruption and abuse of power — reflected a polarized Thai society, and many Thais have greeted the coup as a resolution of that crisis.

The United States, which has decried the coup as a setback to democracy, meanwhile on Thursday suspended US$24 million (euro18.8 million) in assistance to Thailand.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. financing of U.S. military sales to Thailand is being cut off along with training for Thai military personnel.

"The United States continues to urge a rapid return to democratic rule and early elections in Thailand," he said.