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Interim Thai government by August: military leader

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The head of the junta that seized power in Thailand last month said on Friday that an interim government would be set up by August, the first time he has given a clear date on delegating any sort of power in the country.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, in an address to senior military officials, announced the date as part of a three-phase plan of reconciliation, formation of a government and elections to be rolled out by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order.

"A government will be set up by August, or at the very latest September," Prayuth told a meeting devoted to the 2015 national budget. He did not say whether the government would be comprised of civilian or military types.

The army took power on May 22 in a bloodless coup after six months of sometimes violent street protests pitting mainly rural supporters of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra against her Bangkok-based, royalist opponents.

Prayuth repeated in his address that a temporary constitution would be drafted within three months. It would take at least a year until a new general election could take place.

"In the next three months we must do everything properly, whether it is the constitution or other matters. Everything for the first phase should be complete by August," Prayuth said.

Most Bangkok residents have taken the coup in stride. Business has gone on more or less as usual in the capital's offices and restaurants and public transport remain packed, though a midnight to 4 a.m. curfew is still in place.

The military has lifted the curfew in 30 provinces, including resort destinations, to entice back tourists - a mainstay accounting for 10 percent of economic activity.

A general said military leaders could well ease the curfew further to enable soccer fans to watch the World Cup in bars. The junta this week ordered broadcasting authorities to ensure all World Cup games were broadcast on free-to-air channels.

"We may lift the curfew in more provinces ... We understand the wishes of Thai people during the World Cup competition," Lt. General Teerachai Nakvanich, Commander of the First Army Region, told reporters.

But the junta has acted firmly to curb dissent. Soldiers, barely visible in most districts, have been quickly mobilized to snuff out any bid to stage protests.

POLITICIANS, ACTIVISTS, JOURNALISTS ROUNDED UP

The military has rounded up at least 300 politicians, activists and journalists. Many are linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, alleged by opponents to have directed from abroad the government led by his sister Yingluck.

On Thursday, police charged prominent activist Sombat Boonngamanong with inciting unrest, violating cyber laws and defying the junta's orders. He had spearheaded an online campaign promoting street protests against the coup.

Thailand has been polarized for nearly a decade between supporters of Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin who was ousted by a 2006 coup.

A court found Yingluck guilty of abuse of power on May 7, for transferring the country's security chief to another post so that a relative could benefit from related job moves, and ordered her to step down after months of street protests aimed at toppling her government.

Military leader Prayuth says he stepped in to restore order and has made the economy and the welfare of farmers a priority.

The army has begun payments to hundreds of thousands of farmers under a costly rice-buying scheme, one of the key policies that brought Yingluck to power in 2011.

Prayuth told Friday's meeting that the military had no plans to keep the scheme going. "Today, if you ask me, there will definitely be no rice pledging scheme, but whether we have one in the future or not is a different matter," he said.

Opponents said the scheme ran up huge losses. Farmers are owed more than $2.5 billion under the program, a key element in a court ruling that removed Yingluck from office.

(Editing by Ron Popeski and Michael Perry)

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