BANGKOK (AP) — The leader of Thailand's military junta was officially endorsed by the king Monday and warned protesters, the media and the nation's political rivals to avoid inciting division because the country could face a return "to the old days."
Dressed in a crisp white military uniform, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha spoke at a news conference just after King Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsed him to run the country in a royal command that called for "reconciliation among the people" and was concerned about increasingly violent confrontations between the ousted government and dispersed demonstrators who had called repeatedly for the army to intervene.
Prayuth also justified the putsch that was declared last Thursday, saying he had to restore order after seven months of violent confrontations and political turmoil between the now-ousted government and demonstrators who had called repeatedly for the army to intervene.
"The most important thing right now is to keep peace and order in the country," Prayuth said. "When the conflict intensified, and there was the threat of violence, we had to act." In sporadic violence since last November, 28 people have been killed and more than 800 injured in grenade attacks, gun fights and drive-by shootings.
"I am not here to argue with anyone. Our intentions are pure, and we will remain transparent ... everyone needs to help me," Prayuth said, before adding, "do not criticize, do not start problems. It's no use."
Since last week, the military has sought to limit the protests by detaining figures who might play leadership roles. The junta has defended the detentions of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, most of the deposed government's Cabinet, and dozens of politicians and activists.
It also has ordered dozens of outspoken activists, academics and journalists to report to military authorities. More than 200 — the majority considered opponents of the new regime — have been officially summoned so far in lists broadcast on radio and TV.
The fate of Yingluck, who surrendered herself Friday, and many others remains unclear. Some detainees have been released, and the military has said it expects to free most after about a week. Prayuth said the media must "control your message. Anyone who posts on Facebook that incites, I consider that against the peace of the country"
"Do you really want to go back to the old days? Right now there are people coming out to protest. Do your really want to go back?" he asked. "If so, I will have to enforce the law."
Associated Press writer Kay Johnson contributed to this report.