BANGKOK Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha told European investors on Wednesday that he was not a dictator and that his government was seeking to create a Thailand that would be more attractive for their long-term investments.
Prayuth was appointed prime minister on Monday after he was elected by a rubber-stamp parliament he hand-picked.
The army chief seized power in a bloodless coup on May 22 following six months of sometimes deadly protests that helped oust elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The military said intervention was necessary to avoid further bloodshed.
Prayuth met representatives from the Thai-European Business Association (TEBA), a group representing 80 Thai and European investors including automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical and logistics firms, telling them he was prepared to do "everything" to ensure Thailand remains a hub for foreign investors.
"I am prepared to do everything. Just show me your investment roadmap," he said
Prayuth, 60, who is also Thailand's army chief, said the country needs time to deal with its political transition.
"We are not dictators that just order whatever," Prayuth said during the meeting at the army's Bangkok headquarters, the first between the junta leader and foreign investors following his appointment as premier.
"We listen to many civilian advisors. I ask you and the European Union to give us some time to deal with our problems."
The United States and European Union (EU) both downgraded diplomatic ties with Thailand following the coup. The EU, Thailand's third largest trade partner and its second biggest investor, has suspended visits and trade talks.
Critics have accused Prayuth of ruling with an iron fist and say his appointment as premier gives the country only a veneer of democracy while power remains firmly in the military's hands.
Any public dissent against the takeover was repressed by the army, protests soon fizzled out and hundreds of dissenters were detained by the military, some at undisclosed locations.
At Wednesday's meeting, Prayuth dismissed allegations of abuse in military custody.
"In case you have heard distorted information that we have treated people badly, it is not true. Just look at my face. I am not a cruel person."
Thailand's economy, which narrowly avoided a technical recession in the second quarter this year, is struggling to get back on its feet after months of sometimes violent street demonstrations that left nearly 30 people dead.
A regional hub and export base for global automakers, Thailand is looking to revive domestic consumption and investment following months of political turmoil that have tested its "Teflon Thailand" moniker.
Exports, equal to more than 60 percent of the economy, remain weak. Earlier on Wednesday, the Commerce Ministry reported that exports unexpectedly fell 0.85 percent in July from a year earlier.
Prayuth has outlined a year-long roadmap including national reforms, an interim government and elections in 2015.
Cabinet members are expected to be chosen by September.
"When we have a fully-functioning government we plan to visit our counterparts and plan to promote investment in Thailand abroad," Prayuth said during Wednesday's meeting.
"Except in places where I am not welcome," he quipped.
TEBA, which has no links to the European Union, told Prayuth its members were not interested in politics.
"Members do not want to get involved in politics. We want to talk to you about investments and obstacles in Thailand and how we can help Thailand to develop technology," executive director Hugh Vanijprabha said.
(Editing by Richard Borsuk)