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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 06:43 GMT 07:43 UK
Thai military leader defends coup
By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

Winai Phattiyakul on 25 September 2006 (Photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency)
Lt Gen Winai said the army acted reluctantly

One of the six generals running Thailand's new military council has pleaded for international understanding of the reasons behind the coup.

Lt Gen Winai Phattiyakul said the army intervened because of the likelihood of clashes between supporters and opponents of the former prime minister.

He described the army as being badly divided before last week's coup.

And he accused ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra of planning to use elements of the military against the opposition.

While last week's coup has been widely welcomed in Thailand, it has been condemned by most Western governments as a step backwards.

'Could not wait'

The generals who seized power have so far made their case for intervention mainly through official statements read out on national television.

But, in an exclusive interview with the BBC, Lt Gen Winai Phattiyakul described the overthrow of Mr Thaksin as more of a political change than a coup.

He said the army could not afford to wait for elections scheduled for later this year because that would not have solved the crisis.

He painted an alarming picture of violent clashes between pro- and anti-Thaksin demonstrators and he said the army had been badly divided over the crisis.

"There would be more clashes between pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin demonstrators. If we let that happen again, we don't know how many lives we would lose," he said.

He promised that existing curbs on civil liberties would only be for a short time, and insisted the military had acted reluctantly and would not view this coup as a precedent for interventions in the future.

"Mr Thaksin has been in power for many years and has a lot of influence... We didn't want to take any risks. Restrictions on some reports in the media are just for a very short space of time," he said.

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