The former leader of the toppled Thai ruling party yesterday launched the first official opposition group to the nation's new military regime, bidding to draw together dissidents within the country and outside its borders.
Jarupong Ruangsuwan, an ex-minister and wanted man in Thailand, said the new Organisation of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (FT-HD) would press for the restoration of democratic rule.
Since taking power 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, shut down opposition radio stations, 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 would operate from an unnamed country, would resist any moves by the establishment-backed junta to rig the political system, Jarupong said in the group's founding statement.
Jarupong, who resigned as Puea Thai party leader last week, called the coup "grand larceny" and accused the junta of violating "the rule of law, abusing democratic principles" and destroying "rights, liberties, and human dignity".
The organisation is backed by a coalition of former legislators, academics, red-shirt figures and other opponents of the army power grab.
The junta's foreign affairs ministry dismissed the announcement.
"There is only one legitimate government, that is this administration," permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow said.
The Thai army has faced a barrage of international condemnation since claiming power.
On Monday, the European Union halted all official visits to Thailand and suspended the signing of a partnership and cooperation agreement with Bangkok.
Thailand has suffered a deep political rupture since Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother, swept on to the political stage in 2001 on a wave of support from the northern portion of the country.
The Shinawatras' electoral success has shaken the Bangkok-based royalist elite, and its supporters in the military, who accuse the family of abusing democracy to sponsor massive graft.
Some observers say the political crisis is motivated by anxiety among competing elites over who will control the country after the rule of the nation's revered king ends.
Thaksin was deposed as premier in a 2006 coup and lives in self-exile to avoid jail for a corruption conviction, although his political affiliates have continued to sweep the polls. Thaksin and his allies have won every general election they have contested.
"The people are demanding a fightback," FT-HD spokesman Jakrapob Penkair said from London on Monday.