Junta unveils new parliament

Bangkok, October 12:

Foreign diplomats today urged a swift return to democracy in Thailand, as army-installed premier Surayud Chulanont met ambassadors in a push to improve the kingdom’s image following last month’s coup.

He sought to reassure them that Thailand would stick to the timetable set by the junta and return to democracy by October 2007, but some diplomats urged the new government to speed up the process and lift martial law.

Finnish ambassador Lars Backstrom, representing the EU, said human rights and civil liberties must be restored. “The EU member states feel it is important to set a few benchmarks,” he said after meeting Surayud, who was installed as PM by military leaders after they ousted Thaksin Shinawatra on September 19.

“One important benchmark is the lifting of martial law. We would like to have that done without delay and the Prime Minister promised us he was working on it.”

Surayud’s meetings with 92 foreign diplomats came as the junta unveiled a new 250-strong interim parliament dominated by military officials, retired bureaucrats and academics, which Hong Kong-based rights group Asian Human Rights Commission immediately decried as a “puppet” of the ruling junta.

Government spokesman Yongyuth Mayalarp told reporters that most of the western countries, including Canada, Australia and the United States, had expressed concern over martial law and other restrictions on civil liberties. “The PM explained that although Thailand is under martial law, the government is not restricting people’s freedom of expression or media,” Yongyuth said.