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.
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.
Since taking power, the military has silenced dissent and rounded up at least 300 politicians, activists and journalists. Many are linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, alleged by his opponents to have directed from abroad the government headed 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.
The country remains split broadly between supporters of Thaksin in the north and northeast and the Bangkok-based royalist groups that see Thaksin and his policies of benefits to disadvantaged voters as a threat to the old order.
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 maintain the scheme.
"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)