- Thai coup leader to get royal endorsement, address nation
- Wives of jailed opposition mayors win Venezuela ballots
- China busts 23 'terror, religious extremism' groups - Xinhua
Posted: 25 May 2014 10:10 PM PDT
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha will receive the endorsement of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Monday as head of a ruling military council, and the general will then give his first address to the nation since seizing power last week.
The royal command ceremony, a significant formality in a country where the monarchy is the most important institution, was due begin at 10:49 a.m. (0349 GMT), the army said. It gave no reason for that time, but it is likely it was deemed auspicious.
Prayuth's address is likely to be viewed with conflicting attitudes in a country polarised by nearly a decade of rivalry between the royalist establishment, of which Prayuth is a member, and a populist politician who broke the political mould.
Prayuth will outline steps he intends to take, including the proclamation of an interim constitution and the setting up of a legislative council, the military said. It did not elaborate.
The military said it seized power last Thursday to end six months of sometimes violent protests against the populist government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
But it has taken over with a heavy hand, detaining perhaps scores of people, most allied with Yingluck's government, throwing out the constitution, dissolving the Senate and censoring media. Anyone who insults the monarchy or violates the military's orders will be tried in a military court.
Despite warnings, small crowds of people voicing opposition to the May 22 coup have been gathering in Bangkok as well as in the north and northeast, strongholds of the ousted government.
About 1,000 people thronged around Victory Monument, a central Bangkok hub, on Sunday, occasionally confronting lines of soldiers with riot shields, but there have been no clashes.
The military has relaxed restrictions on Yingluck, allowing her to go home although she is under military supervision.
"She is free to come and go as she pleases but will have to inform us as a sign of mutual respect and we will have soldiers guarding her home," a senior military official, who declined to be identified, said on Sunday.
Suthep Thaugsuban, who led the Bangkok protests that undermined Yingluck's government from last November, was released from army custody on Monday but taken with 12 associates to the Attorney General's office. Suthep faces a charge of insurrection relating to the protests but was granted bail, said a member of his legal team.
The easing of restrictions on Yingluck will do little to dispel concern among her supporters that the military is intent on a crackdown for reasons other than restoring order and ending antagonism between protesters backed by the establishment and the real power behind her government, her brother and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup after big-spending policies had won him the passionate support, and votes, of the poor but the animosity of the establishment, who saw him as a corrupt, authoritarian opportunist and a threat to the old order.
Thaksin was also accused of being disrespectful to the monarchy and even a closet republican, which he denied.
The former leader has said on Twitter he was saddened by the latest events, and called on the army to treat everyone fairly. Thaksin has lived in self-exile since a 2008 graft conviction.
The crisis between the establishment and Thaksin comes amid anxiety over the issue of royal succession. The king, the world's longest-reigning monarch, is 86 and spent the years from 2009 to 2013 in hospital.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same devotion as his father, but some Thaksin supporters have recently been making a point of showing their loyalty to the prince.
Meanwhile, one Thaksin ally, ousted Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang, said he expected the military to implement steps aimed at sidelining once and for all Thaksin, his family and his allies, and blocking forever his formidable political machine, which has won every election since 2001.
"Any election after that would be meaningless," Chaturon told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location on Sunday, referring to changes he expects the military to implement.
"The system will be designed so no matter which party people vote for, it won't be able to form a government."
For now, the military is focusing on getting the economy back on track and ending dissent.
Shares in building contractors jumped more than 3 percent on Monday on expectations the new military government would speed up disbursements for infrastructure projects that were put on hold during the months of political unrest. Among them, Italian-Thai Development Pcl
In its latest such order, it told 38 people to come in, including political associates of Thaksin and several big business allies of the former telecommunications tycoon.
(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Khettiya Jittapong and Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alan Raybould and Alex Richardson)
Posted: 25 May 2014 10:05 PM PDT
CARACAS (Reuters) - The wives of two opposition mayors jailed over protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro won landslide victories in elections on Sunday for their spouses' vacant posts.
Though the women's victories were widely expected in cities that are hotbeds of opposition to Madura, they still brought some cheer to a movement divided over the strategy of protests and smarting from repeated defeats in national elections.
Patricia Ceballos, whose husband Daniel Ceballos was sacked in March and received a 12-month sentence for failing to remove protester' barricades in the streets of San Cristobal, took the mayorship there with 74 percent of votes.
The western city near the border of Colombia was the birthplace of demonstrations that began in early February and quickly spread across Venezuela, causing the OPEC nation's worst unrest in a decade and leading to 42 deaths.
Rosa Scarano, whose husband Vicencio Scarano also lost his job and received a 10-month jail sentence in March for the same offence in central San Diego city, won an even larger 88 percent of votes to take the vacant mayorship there.
Both women represented the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition against ruling Socialist Party candidates.
"The result of these elections has shown that power and abuse have received a big lesson," the MUD said in a statement.
The socialists still control about 70 percent of Venezuela's 335 local mayorships, however.
Maduro, who seems to have weathered the worst of the protests, said he would recognise the new mayors, but warned he would not tolerate more unrest in their cities.
"If they go crazy and start burning the municipality again, the authorities will act ... and elections will be called every three months until there is peace," he said.
Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver who replaced the late Hugo Chavez last year, says this year's wave of protests are a cover for a U.S.-promoted coup attempt against him.
Opponents say that is nonsense, and protests are borne out of Venezuelans' frustration with a repressive government and economic hardships including scarcities of basic products and the highest inflation in the Americas.
At the height of the protests, masked youths faced off daily with security forces. But numbers have dwindled in recent weeks.
Though hardline student activists vow to stay on the streets, the MUD's more moderate leaders believe their best strategy now is to focus on a possible recall referendum to try and oust Maduro constitutionally in 2016.
He won a six-year term last year, which would take him to 2019. The opposition would need nearly 4 million signatures to trigger a recall referendum in two years' time.
(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
Posted: 25 May 2014 10:00 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police in the far western region of Xinjiang have taken down 23 "terror and religious extremism groups" and caught more than 200 suspects in May, state media said, days after the region's deadliest attack in years.
China has announced year-long "anti-terrorism" operations in restive Xinjiang, home to a large Muslim Uighur minority, as well as nationwide, following a series of bloody incidents that Beijing blames on Islamists and separatists from the region.
Police busted the groups in the southern Xinjiang prefectures of Hotan, Kashgar and Aksu and seized more than 200 explosive devices in raids, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Sunday.
Many of those captured were in their 20s and 30s, and had learned how to make explosives by watching online videos, Xinhua said.
"They exchanged their experiences of making explosives and propagating jihad through chatting tools, text messages and illegal preaching sites," the news agency said, citing the regional public security department.
China has said five suicide bombers carried out an attack at a morning vegetable market in Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi on Thursday, which killed 31 people and injured 94.
It was the second attack in Urumqi in just over three weeks, after a bomb went off at a train station in late April, killing a bystander and wounding 79.
"[We] must truly turn violent terrorists into rats scurrying across the street, with everyone shouting to beat them down," state media cited Zhang Chunxian, the ruling Communist Party chief in Xinjiang, as saying at a Sunday meeting on the latest Urumqi attack.
At least 180 people have been killed in attacks across China over the past year.
Beijing warns that separatist groups in Xinjiang are seeking to form their own state called East Turkestan.
But exiles and rights groups say the real cause of the unrest in the resource-rich region bordering central Asia is China's repressive policies that put curbs on Islam and the culture of Uighurs, Muslims who speak a Turkic language.
Uighurs have long complained of official discrimination in favour of the Han, China's majority ethnic group.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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