- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

1:04 p.m.

BANGKOK — The army commander who seized Thailand’s government in a quick, bloodless coup pledged today to hold elections by October 2007 and received a ringing endorsement from the country’s revered king.

Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin also hinted that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra may face prosecution.

Gen. Sondhi said he would act as prime minister for two weeks until a new leader is chosen by the Council of Administrative Reform, that an interim constitution would be drafted within that time, and that Thailand’s foreign policy and international agreements would remain unchanged.

Australia called the coup a “great disappointment.” Japan urged the quick restoration of democracy. The European Union condemned the military takeover, and Washington expressed concern about it.

The United States, Britain and other nations also warned their citizens in Thailand to exercise caution.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej appointed Gen. Sondhi head of the council “in order to create peace in the country,” according to an announcement on state-run television.

“All people should remain peaceful, and civil servants should listen to orders from Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin from now on,” it said.

Gen. Sondhi led a precision takeover overnight without firing a shot, sending soldiers and tanks to guard major intersections and surround government buildings while the popularly elected Mr. Thaksin, accused of corruption and undermining democratic institutions, was in New York attending the U.N. General Assembly.

Asked at a news conference if there would be moves to confiscate Mr. Thaksin’s vast assets, Gen. Sondhi said that “those who have committed wrongdoings have to be prosecuted according to the law.” He did not elaborate.

Gen. Sondhi said on nationwide television that the overthrow — Thailand’s first coup in 15 years — was needed “in order to resolve the conflict and bring back normalcy and harmony among people.”

“I am the one who decided to stage the coup. No one supported me,” he said.

Gen. Sondhi, 59, known to be close to the king, is a Muslim in a Buddhist-dominated nation.

State-run television said the new leaders had dismissed the state audit commissioners and given additional powers to the auditor general, Jaruvan Maintaka, to investigative government corruption.

Analysts said the move is expected to make it easier for Mr. Jaruvan to investigate reports of corruption involving Mr. Thaksin and his ministers and could eventually lead to the confiscation of his assets.

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