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Thai army chief: Elections? Maybe after a year

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

Thai army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha gestures during a press conference in Bangkok, May 26, 2014.
Pornchai Kittiwongsakul | AFP | Getty Images

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.

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

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

Prayuth also explained the junta's plans for administering the country, emphasizing financial stability and transparency.

The army coup overthrew a government that won a landslide election victory three years ago.

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

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It has summoned more than 250 people, including members of the government it ousted and other leading political figures, journalists, scholars and ctivists 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.

At the center of Thailand's deep political divide is Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister 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 was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives abroad in self-imposed exile, but held great influence over the overthrown government, which had been led by his sister until a court ousted her earlier this month.

Despite the latest political upheaval, life has continued largely as normal in most of the country, with tourists still relaxing at beach resorts and strolling through Buddhist temples in Bangkok and elsewhere.

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A curfew remains in effect from midnight to 4 a.m. but has not affected critical travel, including that of tourists arriving at airports.

—By The Associated Press