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AS IT IS - Thailand's Military Rulers Want to Soften Image after Coup

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Protesters scuffle with soldiers during a rally at Victory Monument in Bangkok May 28, 2014.
Protesters scuffle with soldiers during a rally at Victory Monument in Bangkok May 28, 2014.

Earlier this week, the head of Thailand's army gave orders to some of the country's top diplomats. General Prayuth Chan-ocha told them to seek international understanding for the military's ouster of the government. The general organized the military overthrow, or coup, last month. He now holds all administrative and legislative power in Thailand.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha met on Wednesday with 23 of Thailand's ambassadors and general consuls working in 21 countries. The general told the diplomats that they have a duty to create international understanding about the coup last month. Thai military and foreign ministry officials reported his comments.

Thailand's military rulers have set up a group called the National Council for Peace and Order to govern the country. The military has detained several hundred people, including politicians, activists and members of the media. Many have been released after being held for a week or two in military camps. Some of those targeted have disobeyed orders to surrender. Among them are Thais living overseas.

As the general met with diplomats, a number of Thai military commanders were on their way to China. They were to meet with top-level Chinese army officials. The two countries have held joint exercises in the past.

Thailand's military rulers say China has been supportive of the coup. But Western nations, including the United States, have been critical of the government's ouster. The U.S. military suspended training operations with Thailand's forces in answer to the coup.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor with Kyoto University in Japan. He describes relations between Thailand and China after the coup as a win-win situation. He notes the physical closeness of the two countries and their growing economic ties.

"The pressure from Western countries, the United States and Australia, could have played a role in pushing Thailand a little bit closer to China and knowing that there would be a lot of interest in doing so anyway."

China is already Thailand's biggest trading partner. Trade between the countries is expected to reach $100 billion next year.

General Prayuth has expressed a need to return "happiness" to the Thai people after a long period of political unrest. Another Thai military official spoke to VOA after the coup. He said a goal of the ouster of the civilian caretaker government is to permanently end the political influence of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

He was overthrown when the military ousted the government in 2005. But the party he supported won the elections in 2011, and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, later became prime minister.

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