Tanks removed from streets of Thailand's capital as new premier takes over

Tanks and troops that toppled a civilian government nearly two weeks ago were off the streets of the Thai capital Monday following the announcement of a new interim prime minister to lead the country for one year.

The military council that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup Sept. 19 while he was abroad chose former army commander Surayud Chulanont to serve as premier until elections promised for October 2007.

Surayud, sworn in Sunday as the country's 24th prime minister, said during the ceremony that he wanted to heal a country divided by the policies of his predecessor and settle a bloody Muslim insurgency festering in Thailand's south.

"It was injustice that caused problems in politics and the south," Surayud said. "I urge everybody to help solve the two problems, and unity is needed to deal with them."

Surayud told reporters Monday that he would travel to the restive region after the formation of a Cabinet, expected later this week.

On his first day in office, the prime minister met with U.S. ambassador Ralph L. Boyce and received blessings and Buddhist amulets from the country's senior ranking Buddhist monk, 93-year-old Supreme Patriarch Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara.

Surayud and Boyce, the first foreign diplomat to meet Surayud, shook hands in front of reporters at Government House, but the prime minister did not speak to the press.

"We had a very good discussion," Boyce said. "I think it's very well known that the United States urges a speedy return to a democratically elected government and protection of civil liberties during the interim, and the prime minister assured me this would be the case."

Just hours before Surayud was sworn in, a police sergeant was shot to death and his 4-year-old daughter injured by suspected insurgents in Yala, police Maj. Korakot Phantarak said. Yala is one of four provinces in southern Thailand where more than 1,700 people have died in the separatist rebellion.

A spokesman for the military council said that troops began their drawdown from Bangkok's streets on Sunday.

"The soldiers are back in their barracks and the police have redeployed from Government House and all other government offices," spokesman Gen. Palangoon Klaharn said.

Surayud, 63, tried to set himself apart from the brash, pro-business Thaksin by saying he would strive to balance the needs for a growing economy with the happiness of the people.

"I will focus on self-sufficiency, more than focusing on the GDP numbers," Surayud said. "I will focus on the happiness of the people, more than the GDP."

Thaksin, accused by the coup makers of corruption and divisive policies, was in New York at the time of the coup, and is currently living in London.

While Surayud reaffirmed the government's commitment to elections in one year, a temporary constitution approved by Thailand's powerful King Bhumibol Adulyadej and announced Sunday reserves considerable powers for Thailand's coup makers, unnerving rights activists.

The military council gave itself the power to remove Surayud and his Cabinet, approve the selection of a National Assembly speaker, and have final say on a 100-member committee that will write the next constitution, reports AP.

The interim document, which replaces the 1997 charter abolished when military officers seized power from Thaksin last month, also gives "complete immunity" to the coup leaders for overthrowing the government.

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