BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's military government summoned the U.S. charge d'affairs for talks on Wednesday after a top U.S. diplomat roiled the junta during a visit by calling for an end to martial law and saying the impeachment of a former prime minister could be politically motivated.
Daniel Russel, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, made the comments during a university speech in Bangkok on Monday.
On Wednesday, coup leader-turned-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he was "saddened" by the remarks and said "the U.S. does not understand the way we work."
Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, who met with U.S. charge d'affairs W. Patrick Murphy, said Russel's comments had "hurt" many Thais and showed a lack of understanding of Thai politics.
Don said Murphy was summoned not to protest, but to explain the government's point of view. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy confirmed the two had met, but did not comment further.
Thailand, a long-standing U.S. ally, has been under martial law since the military staged a coup last May.
Last week, the country's military-appointed legislature voted to ban ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from politics for five years for overseeing a rice subsidy program that lost billions of dollars. Yingluck is also facing criminal charges that carry a 10-year prison term.
In a speech to students at Chulalongkorn University on Monday, Russel — America's highest-level diplomat to visit Thailand since the coup — said the perception of fairness is important to justice.
"I'll be blunt here: When an elected leader is deposed, impeached by the authorities that implemented the coup, and then targeted with criminal charges while basic democratic processes and institutions are interrupted, the international community is left with the impression that these steps could be politically driven," Russel said.
Russel also expressed concern over "significant restraints on freedom of expression" in Thailand today, and said the country's political process does not represent "all elements of Thai society" — a reference to reforms, including the writing of a new constitution, which are going ahead without input from the popularly elected former ruling party.