New Thai PM to take defense minister's job to deter military coup

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) Thailand's new prime minister said Sunday he will also become the defense minister in a soon-to-be unveiled Cabinet to deter the military from staging a coup against his government.

The Cabinet, to be announced in the coming days, is expected to be stocked with close advisers, friends and relatives of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 military coup.

The military, which relinquished power after guiding the country for more than a year, is displeased with the election victory of new Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who has openly announced that he is Thaksin's proxy.

Samak told reporters he would take the defense minister's job to allay military fears that he or others might interfere with the annual military reshuffle of senior officers. Under a law that came into effect Saturday, the power to implement the reshuffles is removed from political leaders, including the prime minister and defense minister, and placed in the hands of seven military commissioners.

''When there is no outside interference there is no reason for them to stage a
coup,'' said Samak, who was sworn in Jan. 29 as Thailand's first elected leader
since the coup.

In the past, the annual changing of the guard proved an opportunity for political leaders to shore up their positions with military commanders while relegating potential opponents to unimportant positions.

Generals have periodically toppled governments since the country changed from an absolute monarchy to a parliamentary system in 1932. The latest occurred on September 19, 2006 when the military deposed Thaksin, who has been charged with corruption and abuse of power.

Thaksin, who was out of the country during the coup and has not returned since, now spends most of his time in London. He says he will return to Thailand this year to face the courts and clear his name.

Source: wcco.com

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