(Updates with protests, social media, tourism figures)
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat
BANGKOK May 29 Thailand's military rulers held
out little hope for early elections on Thursday, a week after
the army seized power, saying conditions had to be right and
divisions healed before there could be a return to civilian
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha ousted the government
of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on May 22 to end months of
protests that had depressed Southeast Asia's second-biggest
economy and raised fears of enduring chaos.
"It is the council's intention to create the right
conditions ... to put Thailand on the path to free and fair
elections," Lieutenant General Chatchalerm Chalermsukh, deputy
army chief of staff, told reporters, referring to the junta.
Thailand has become polarised between supporters of Yingluck
and her influential brother, deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra,
and the royalist establishment that sees Thaksin and his
pro-business, populist ways as a threat to the old order.
Chatchalerm did not elaborate on what conditions were needed
for an election, but said the military wanted to see
reconciliation and an end to the political rift that emerged
after Thaksin won his first election in 2001.
"I want to ask you how long it takes to heal divisions
between two groups that have been going on for 10 years?"
"The two sides do not have to love each other, but we want
the situation to stay calm and peaceful. We need a period of
time for all sides to cool down."
The United States and other allies have criticised the coup
and called for a quick return to democracy.
Chatchalerm said the army had been forced to step in because
of six months of debilitating anti-government protests,
organised by a pro-establishment politician, Suthep Thaugsuban.
"Administrative paralysis has been devastating for Thailand.
It put a strain on Thailand's GDP which became negative for the
first time in many years," he said.
Gross domestic product shrank 2.1 percent in the first
quarter of 2014, as the anti-government protesters damaged
confidence and scared off tourists.
Data on Wednesday showed Thailand's trade shrank in April
and factory output fell for the 13th straight month,
underscoring the tough job the military government faces in
Navy commander Admiral Narong Pipattanasai, the junta member
overseeing tourism, told reporters 26 million people were
expected to visit this year, down from a targeted 28 million,
because of the unrest.
The military has moved quickly to tackle economic problems,
notably preparing payments for hundreds of thousands of rice
farmers that the ousted government was unable to make.
General Prayuth met a team of advisers for the first time on
Thursday to map out a strategy for securing the country and
propping up the stumbling economy.
Among his advisers are two powerful establishment figures
hostile towards Thaksin, who remains central to the political
turmoil despite being ousted in a 2006 coup and now living in
The two, a former defence minister, General Prawit
Wongsuwan, and former army chief General Anupong Paochinda, have
close ties to Prayuth. All three are staunch monarchists and
helped overthrow Thaksin in 2006.
It is not clear what powers Prayuth's advisers will have,
but their appointment would suggest little prospect of
compromise with the Shinawatras.
Since seizing power the military has detained 200 or more
people, although most have now been freed, including Yingluck,
Suthep and leaders of pro-Thaksin "red shirt" activists.
Those released have to tell the military of their
whereabouts and travel plans and have promised not to organise
demonstrations, a military spokesman said.
Despite martial law and a ban on gatherings, small protests
against the military takeover have been held daily in Bangkok.
They have been rowdy at times but there has been no serious
Soldiers blocked off roads to central Bangkok's Victory
Monument protest site on Thursday, preventing a gathering
although media said soldiers took away a foreign man who held a
T-shirt bearing the message "peace please".
Several dozen students briefly rallied against the coup at
Thammasat University, according to social media posts. Some
people have staged silent protests by reading in public George
Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four", a novel about living under
The military has warned about the spread of what it calls
provocative information on social media and on Wednesday Thai
Facebook users were shocked when the site went down.
The Information Communications Technology Ministry said it
had blocked access at the request of the military to halt online
criticism. But the site quickly came back up and a military
spokeswoman blamed the interruption on a gateway glitch.
Thailand will send officials to Singapore and Japan in
coming days to seek tighter censorship of social media from
Facebook, Google Inc and instant messenger service
Line, a government spokesman said.
(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alan Raybould, Alex
Richardson and Nick Macfie)