Thai General Wants Martial Law for Another Month

Thailand's defense minister said that martial law should remain in place at least another month, giving the first indication of how long the country's post-coup government plans to retain emergency powers.

The international community has urged Thailand's new leaders to restore civil liberties, but several officials have said that was unlikely to happen soon.

"I think the martial law is needed for at least another month," Defense Minister Bunrod Somtad said Wednesday, adding that the "situation is still not stabilized." He did not elaborate.

Western nations and human rights groups denounced the Sept. 19 coup that overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as a setback to democracy. The military imposed martial law immediately after the coup, curbing press freedoms and limiting public gatherings and political assembly.

CountryWatch: Thailand

Army chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, who led the coup, said earlier Wednesday that martial law was not harming anyone and that lifting the restrictions would make it difficult to solve problems.

"We have to realize that once martial law is lifted, if anything happens it would be hard to resolve," Sondhi said in a broadcast on the army's radio station. "At this moment, martial law is not affecting the daily life of people."

Sondhi said the coup leaders, who call themselves the Council for National Security, will discuss when to lift martial law with the interim government, which was sworn in Monday.

"Anyway, martial law will not be in place for too long," Sondhi said.

Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said Tuesday that his government valued civil liberties and he wanted to see a quick return to normalcy, suggesting that martial law would be end soon.

"We will lift martial law as soon as we can and when the situation is suitable," Surayud said, adding that his government still needed to consult coup leaders on the matter. "I stress it will not be long."

"We value the freedom of people and civil liberties," he said.

The army general's comments Wednesday showed that the military has little intention of fading into the background in the immediate aftermath of the coup.

In another sign of the military's continued presence, Sondhi said that his Council for National Security had selected 250 people to serve as Thailand's interim National Legislative Assembly, or lower house of Parliament, which in normal times is an elected body.

Sondhi said that the 250 represented a broad section of society, including academics, businessmen, former civil servants, lawyers and farmers. He said the lineup would be made public in the coming days.

According to a plan set out by the coup leaders, Surayud's government will rule for about a year, until a new constitution is written and elections are held in October 2007.

The military ousted Thaksin while he was attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Last week, in a letter sent from London, he resigned as leader of the ruling Thai Rak Thai party, which he founded, funded and led to three election victories.