Thai coup leader says will not control government

Bangkok, Sept 29 | Updated: Sep 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
Thailands interim civilian prime minister will have a free hand in running the government after a post-coup constitution comes into force on October 1, coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin told Reuters on Friday.

I can assure you it is impossible that we will control the government, Sonthi said in an exclusive interview at Army Headquarters. We will be the governments tool to keep peace.

He declined to name the successor to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra but said the choice would be submitted to revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej after approval of the constitution. Thai media are focusing on respected former army chief Surayud Chulanont, but Sonthi declined to comment.

He said the military had decided to seize power three days before the September 19 bloodless coup on the basis of intelligence reports that hundreds of thousands of Thaksins supporters and foes were planning to converge on the capital on September 20.

He said the assessment was based on the number of buses booked to ferry demonstrators to Bangkok, raising fears of bloody clashes. The government might have declared a state of emergency. If we had let this happen, people in the entire country could have killed each other, said Sonthi, now head of the Council for Democratic Reform as the military coup leaders call themselves.

There would have been a bloodbath. The Council had known of this three days in advance, he said. We could not let the country walk into that situation. Therefore, we had to do the reform on the 19th. It was an emergency.

Thaksin, who is in exile in London with members of his family and who now faces several probes into corruption allegations against him and his cabinet colleagues, should not return to Thailand in the near term, Sonthi said.