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Thailand accuses US of meddling in its politics

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Thailand accused the United States on Wednesday of meddling in its political affairs, saying many Thais had been hurt by remarks of a visiting US envoy who criticised actions by the ruling military junta.

[BANGKOK] Thailand accused the United States on Wednesday of meddling in its political affairs, saying many Thais had been hurt by remarks of a visiting US envoy who criticised actions by the ruling military junta.

The long-time US ally expressed its displeasure about remarks on Monday by Assistant US Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel by summoning the US charge d'affaires Patrick Murphy to the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok.

A spokeswoman for the US State Department said Murphy reiterated the US call for more inclusive politics and an end to martial law.

He also expressed the US hope "that we will continue to have an ongoing dialogue," the spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told a regular news briefing.

Relations between the two sides have deteriorated since Thailand's military coup in May, with Washington freezing aid and cancelling some security cooperation.

The United States also scaled back its annual Cobra Gold joint military exercise with Thailand, limiting its scope to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Psaki said she was not aware of any additional changes to this plan.

Russel was the highest-level US official to visit Thailand since the coup. His comments came a few days after ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was banned from politics for five years and indicted on criminal charges over a state rice-buying scheme.

Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, who summoned the US charge, told reporters Thailand did not agree with Russel "talking about politics" in his address at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "It hurt many Thais," he said. "If we comply ... and lift martial law and it leads to problems, how will those people who are asking for the lifting of martial law take responsibility?" he said. "In reality, Thais don't even know there is martial law." Russel met with representatives of the military government, but not Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup.

Prayuth told reporters he hoped the flare-up would not affect bilateral trade, adding that economic ties were continuing as normal. "It saddens me that the United States does not understand the reason why I had to intervene and does not understand the way we work, even though we have been close allies for years,"he said.

Thailand's military government has promised reforms and an eventual return to democratic rule, but critics say the army has stifled free speech.

REUTERS