Thai coup chief: elections could occur in 1 year

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Thai riot police stand guard near Victory Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 30, 2014. An anti-coup activist called Friday for a weekend rally to defy the military government’s ban on demonstrations, urging those opposed to the takeover to wear masks and be ready for cat-and-mouse chases with soldiers in the capital. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai riot police stand guard near Victory Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 30, 2014. An anti-coup activist called Friday for a weekend rally to defy the military government’s ban on demonstrations, urging those opposed to the takeover to wear masks and be ready for cat-and-mouse chases with soldiers in the capital. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Female riot police arrive at Victory Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 30, 2014. An anti-coup activist called Friday for a weekend rally to defy the military government’s ban on demonstrations, urging those opposed to the takeover to wear masks and be ready for cat-and-mouse chases with soldiers in the capital. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

A Buddhist monk and a woman walk past line of Thai soldiers guarding the square at Victory Monument to prevent anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, May 30, 2014. An anti-coup activist in Thailand called Friday for a weekend rally to defy the military government’s ban on demonstrations, urging those opposed to the takeover to wear masks and be ready for cat-and-mouse chases with soldiers in the capital. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

A boy, center, plays with Thai soldiers guarding the square at Victory Monument to prevent anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, May 30, 2014. An anti-coup activist in Thailand called Friday for a weekend rally to defy the military government’s ban on demonstrations, urging those opposed to the takeover to wear masks and be ready for cat-and-mouse chases with soldiers in the capital. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

A child poses with Thai soldiers guard near Victory Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 30, 2014. An anti-coup activist called Friday for a weekend rally to defy the military government’s ban on demonstrations, urging those opposed to the takeover to wear masks and be ready for cat-and-mouse chases with soldiers in the capital. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

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BANGKOK (AP) — The head of the military junta that took control of Thailand in a coup last week said Friday that new elections may not occur for more than a year because peace and reforms must be achieved first.

Army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha spelled out the junta’s plans in his first speech directly to the public since the May 22 coup.

Prayuth repeated warnings against protests or resistance to the army’s takeover, saying they would slow the process of bringing back “happiness” to the Thai people.

A return to democracy will not happen if there are still “protests without a true understanding of democracy,” he said.

The speech was meant to reassure Thais that the army has a plan to keep the country stable and restore democracy.

But it was unlikely to win favor among supporters of the ousted civilian government, because it laid out broadly the same program that had been advocated by anti-government protesters who had demonstrated aggressively for seven months to topple it, clashing with police and occupying government offices.

Prayuth said it would take the junta, called the National Council for Peace and Order, at least two to three months to achieve reconciliation in the deeply divided country, and it would then take about a year to write a new constitution and set up an interim government. Only then could elections be held, he said.

“Give us time to solve the problems for you. Then the soldiers will step back to look at Thailand from afar,” he said.

Prayuth did not mention former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose political machine was the protesters’ main target. Thaksin, who is at the center of Thailand’s political divide, was overthrown in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. His sister, Yingluck, was prime minister of the government that was besieged by protesters. Her government won a landslide election victory three years ago.

Prayuth explained the reasons for the army’s action, and the junta’s plans for administering the country, emphasizing financial stability and transparency.

“The reason NCPO has taken control of national administration was because of the prolonged political deadlock, protests, and violence,” he said. “The caretaker government was unable to perform their duties effectively,” and the situation risked hurting the economy, he said.

International reaction to the coup has been largely negative. English-language subtitles accompanied Prayuth’s talk, which was broadcast on all television stations.

“The NCPO does understand the feelings of the foreigners,” he said. “We do understand the world’s order that at the moment, it’s the world of democracy. But let us have time to change our attitudes, values and several other things to solve Thailand’s democracy to make it match with the international standards.”

In the past week, the junta has moved to silence its critics and warned that it will not tolerate dissent.

It has summoned more than 250 people, including members of the government it ousted and other leading political figures, journalists, scholars and activists seen as critical of the regime. Roughly 70 people are still in custody.

On Friday, the military sealed off a major Bangkok intersection for a second day to prevent a possible protest. The massive show of force — involving hundreds of troops during the evening rush hour — came in response to small but near-daily demonstrations that have raised tension and concerns the army will crack down on protesters.

Thaksin is still supported by many rural Thais for his populist programs but despised by others — particularly Bangkok’s elite and middle classes — over allegations of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the monarchy. He lives abroad in self-imposed exile, but held great influence over the overthrown government led by his sister.

Despite the latest political upheaval, life has continued largely as normal in

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