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Coup Leaders in Thailand Promise Elections

But military imposes martial law and press censorship, and abolishes the Constitution

LEADERS of a military coup in Thailand promised Sunday to hand over power to a caretaker government and hold national elections within six months, saying they did not want to retain control. Army chief Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon, speaking the day after his soldiers ousted the government of Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan in a bloodless putsch, said the armed forces were determined to snuff out corruption in one of Asia's most dynamic economies. ``We have no intention of keeping power, but we decided to take over because we could not allow large-scale corruption to drag on,'' Gen. Suchinda told a news conference at army headquarters. ``There must be measures to prevent politicians buying their way into parliament,'' he said, flanked by generals and joking to reporters. The new military junta appointed a broad-based civilian advisory council Sunday and said it would draw up a new constitution ahead of fresh elections. But it did not say who would be in the caretaker administration. The United States, a major ally of the thriving southeast Asian monarchy, suspended economic and military aid to protest Saturday's coup by the 200,000-strong Thai armed forces. Suchinda said Prime Minister Chatichai, held at a heavily guarded air force camp in Bangkok after his arrest aboard a C-130 military transport plane, would be released when the situation returned to normal. The US, which condemned the overthrow of Thailand's first elected premier in more than a decade, said it was worried about the safety of Chatichai and members of his Cabinet. In 1988, Chatichai's party, Chart Thai, won a majority of seats in the parliament. The coup leader, Gen. Sunthorn Kongsompong, imposed martial law, domestic press censorship, and abolished the constitution after troops and tanks took over government and media buildings without firing a shot. In a statement, the new National Peacekeeping Command (NPC) said Chatichai's government, which has overseen two years of rapid economic growth in the country of 55 million people, had undermined the military and run roughshod over the civilian bureaucracy. The takeover, Thailand's 17th successful or attempted coup since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932, attracted little hostility from Thais, who are either inured to military interference in politics or disillusioned with Chatichai's brand of civilian government. Suchinda said the NPC had no intention of abolishing political parties ``because we still believe in democratic principles.'' Only one local newspaper, The Nation, defied new censorship laws by openly attacking the putsch as a ``serious blemish on our contemporary political history.'' The coup ended months of sparring between military leaders and Chatichai over his choice of ministers. His appointment of disgraced former general Arthit Kamlang-ek to the sensitive post of deputy defense minister was apparently the last straw. Nearly all military and police leaders appeared on national television to support the successful revolt. Most politicians also backed the coup. Coup leaders flew late Saturday to the northern city of Chiang Mai for an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, an army officer announced on state television. Gaining the support of the revered monarch has been vital in past coups. -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/91/mar/week10/ofill25.

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