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Thai army chief warns against protests after disputed election

Bangkok

THAILAND'S army chief on Tuesday warned against protests after a disputed election, invoking the revered monarchy and castigating people he said "distort" democracy.

His words were the latest in a series of signals from the military and royalist establishment against opposition parties loyal to ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The inconclusive results to the March 24 election, pitting the party of the junta leader against an opposition alliance, have seen both the pro-army Palang Pracharat party and the opposition claim victory. Final results may not be clear for weeks.

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General Apirat Kongsompong said the military would remain neutral in the election, in which his predecessor as army chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is seeking to stay in power as an elected prime minister, five years after he seized power in a coup.

"General Prayuth has to be on his own path and the army has to step back," the general said. "We cannot get involved in politics." At the same time, he made it clear the military would not allow a repeat of past mass street demonstrations in which both supporters and opponents of Thaksin paralysed Bangkok for months on end.

"I cannot let Thais settle their differences on the streets anymore," General Apirat told reporters, adding that both the eventual winners and losers in the election must settle their differences in parliament.

He also had harsh words for politicians he said "distort" democratic principles to make them incompatible with Thai culture that reveres the king above all else, a clear reference to Thaksin's party and its allies.

"This is not right," he said of such politicians."Thailand is a democracy with the king as the head of state." Thaksin-loyal parties have won every election since 2001, even after he was ousted in a 2006 coup.

Last week, six other parties joined with the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai party in a "democratic front" alliance, which they claim will gain enough seats in parliament to try to form a government and block General Prayuth from staying in power.

The army chief also alluded to an election-eve statement from King Maha Vajiralongkorn, telling reporters on Tuesday "we must choose good people to govern so that bad people don't have power". REUTERS