Thailand: Junta leader Prayuth defends crackdown on social media
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Thailand: Junta leader Prayuth defends crackdown on social media

THAILAND’S junta leader has defended his government’s increasing crackdown on social media dissidents, while promising to restore democracy in the country.

Speaking at a security conference in Singapore, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Friday that Thailand is in a transition toward “a strong and sustainable democracy.”

There has been an “abuse (of) social media to engage in libel and a distortion of facts,” so it is “necessary for the military to take control for a while,” Prayuth said.

In May, authorities arrested eight people on charges of sedition and violation of the Computer Crime Act for material posted on Facebook that mocked Prayuth.

Military rule has also seen a significant increase in arrests for social media posts criticizing the country’s revered monarchy, an offence that attracts lengthy prison sentences under draconian lese majeste laws.

Prayuth, who seized power in a military coup in May 2014, has promised to hold elections next year and wants to hold a referendum on the draft of a new constitution on Aug. 7. But his government has banned most public discussion of the charter.

“Anything that cannot be completed during this administration will be handed over to the next,” Prayuth said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered closer U.S. cooperation with China to help build what he envisions as a regional security network.

In a speech at the Singapore conference, Carter repeated frequent U.S. complaints about China unnerving its neighbors with expansive moves to build up reefs, islets and other features in disputed areas of the South China Sea. But the Pentagon chief also emphasized positive possibilities for cooperating with China, while stating that the U.S. will remain the pre-eminent power.

Carter says he intends to visit Beijing later this year.

He calls for “principled security networks” of Asian countries whose militaries would train together and eventually operate in a coordinated way.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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