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April 28, 2017

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Former leader of Thai ruling party forms new coup opposition group

BANGKOK--The former leader of Thailand's toppled ruling party on Tuesday launched the first official opposition group to the new military regime, trying to draw together dissidents within the country and overseas.

Jarupong Ruangsuwan, an ex-minister and wanted man in Thailand, said the new "Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy" (FT-HD) would press for the restoration of democratic rule.

Since grabbing power from the elected government in a coup on May 22, the junta has muzzled dissent across the nation and effectively stifled any attempt to coordinate widespread anti-coup actions.

It has imposed strict media controls and summoned and detained hundreds of people, the majority linked with the deposed Puea Thai government of ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra and her administration's "Red Shirt" supporters.

The anti-coup group, which will operate from an unnamed country, will resist any moves by the establishment-backed junta to rig the political system in its favor, Jarupong said in the group's founding statement.

Decrying the coup as "grand larceny," he accused the junta of violating "the rule of law, abusing democratic principles" and destroying "rights, liberties, and human dignity."

The former interior minister stepped down from his party role last week and is the subject of an arrest warrant after refusing to report to the military.

The organization is backed by a coalition of former lawmakers, academics, Red Shirt figures and other opponents of the army power grab.

"The people are demanding a fightback," FT-HD spokesman Jakrapob Penkair told AFP from London, where he was speaking on Monday.

"This is just the start. We will provide assistance and encouragement to all demonstrators against the coup ... but not of the violent kind."

Jakrapob was once a spokesman for the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, and a founding member of the Red Shirt movement. He said Thaksin had neither been consulted on the group or joined it.

Army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha has suspended the constitution, assumed sweeping powers and smothered dissent, warning that anti-coup protesters face military courts if prosecuted.

The junta's foreign affairs ministry batted away the FT-HD announcement.

"There is only one legitimate government, that is this administration," permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow told reporters.

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