- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

BANGKOK — Thailand’s new military rulers tightened their grip yesterday, restricting political activities, assuming legislative powers and detaining some allies of the deposed prime minister.

In announcements broadcast on all television stations, the military said it was banning all meetings by political parties and the creation of new parties. It said it was taking over the duties and responsibilities of parliament, which was dissolved when the coup leaders threw out the 1997 constitution.

At the United Nations in New York, a senior U.S. official said the coup marked a setback for democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

“We consider this military move to be a step backward for Thai democracy, a very sad development for Thai democracy,” said Christopher R. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

“We are also reviewing our assistance to Thailand,” Mr. Hill said.

The Thai ruling council also has imposed restrictions on press and broadcast outlets. It has stationed soldiers at television and radio stations and ordered the information ministry to stop the distribution of information “deemed harmful” to its agenda.

In a region where democracies are fragile in the best of times, the coup also has unleashed worries about nearby nations where political unrest is common.

Political analysts said images of tanks rolling through Bangkok’s streets sent an unfortunate message, but that the chances of a spillover effect appeared remote.

“At a time when many countries are struggling to consolidate their democracy, this is a bad example,” and raises questions about stability in the region, said political analyst Dewi Fortuna Anwar of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

The ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, issued his first statement since the coup and did not challenge the Thai military’s authority.

The billionaire tycoon said from London that he planned to take a “deserved rest” from politics, and hoped to carry out “possible charitable work for Thailand.”

The coup group empowered an auditor to investigate government corruption, which could lead to the confiscation of Mr. Thaksin’s wealth. Analysts said that proving Thaksin’s purported corruption was necessary to legitimize the coup.

Pasuk Phongpaichit, one of Thailand’s most respected political economists, said corruption was “blatant” under the Thaksin government but that a coup was not the best way to handle it.

“A democratic country must have a constitution and adhere to the rule of law,” she said. “If the prime minister has done something wrong, he must be tried and he should be judged.”

Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report from New York.

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