- Associated Press - Monday, May 26, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) — Bolstered by an endorsement from Thailand’s king, the nation’s new military ruler issued a stark warning Monday to anyone opposed to last week’s coup: don’t cause trouble, don’t criticize, don’t protest — or else the nation could revert to the “old days” of turmoil and street violence.

Speaking in his first public appearance since the coup, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha defended the army’s takeover, saying he had to restore order after seven months of increasingly violent confrontations between the now-ousted government and demonstrators who had long urged the army to intervene.

“I’m not here to argue with anyone. I want to bring everything out in the open and fix it,” said Prayuth, who spoke at the army headquarters in Bangkok dressed in a crisp white military uniform.

“Everyone must help me,” he said, adding: but “do not criticize, do not create new problems. It’s no use.”

The tough words came as an aide to former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she had been released Monday from military custody after being held for three days at an undisclosed location without access to a telephone. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Yingluck had returned to her home.

In a gruff, 20-minute appearance, Prayuth warned the media and social media users to avoid doing anything that could fan the conflict. He also called on anti-coup protesters who have been staging small-scale demonstrations to stop.

“Right now there are people coming out to protest. So do you want to go back to the old days? I’m asking the people in the country, if you want it that way, then I will have to enforce the law.”

Earlier Monday, a royal command sent in the name of King Bhumibol Adulyadej officially endorsed Prayuth to run the country and called for “reconciliation among the people.”

Bhumibol, who is 86 and in fragile health, did not attend the ceremony, in which Prayuth knelt down before a large picture of the monarch and offered a decorated cone of banana leaves. The endorsement is a formality, but an important one in such circumstances as contending political forces look for signs that the king may not be approving such actions. But Monday’s ceremony offered no such clues, dampening any speculation that the palace might withhold its support for the junta.

Thursday’s coup, Thailand’s second in eight years, deposed an elected government that had insisted for months that the nation’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts, and finally the army.

The country is deeply split between an elite establishment based in Bangkok and the south that cannot win elections on one side, and a poorer majority in the north that has begun to realize political and economic power on the other.

Despite the threat to crack down on anti-coup protesters, soldiers did not use force against several hundred people who gathered again Monday at the city’s Victory Monument and eventually dispersed on their own, vowing to return Tuesday.

“Freedom is more important, isn’t it?” said Khao Thitipong. “If we don’t have freedom, we don’t have life.”

Through a loudspeaker, a soldier taunted the protesters, saying they had been paid to come out. “Can you still call yourselves patriots?” he said.

The soldier also accused international journalists at the scene of inciting the conflict. “Do you think they are good for Thailand?” he said, before addressing them directly in English: “Foreign media, be careful.”

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