New Thai army chief seen as pro-palace moderate

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BANGKOK, Sep 19 (Reuters) Thailand's King Bhumibol has approved Anupong Paochinda as the country's next army chief to succeed Sonthi Boonyaratglin who led the coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra exactly one year ago.

''Everyone agrees that Anupong is the most suitable person, both brains and brawn. He is a good and clean man,'' Sonthi told Reuters after the palace announcement.

Anupong, a vice chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), the name the coup leaders have given themselves, is seen as a less political officer than the other front runner, Saprang Kalayanamitr.

''His profile is more professional and less politicised, and he is close to the palace,'' Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a Chulanlongkorn University political analyst, wrote in a commentary earlier this month.

Sonthi has remained coy about his plans after retiring at the end of September, fuelling speculation he may enter politics.

Colleagues say he has told them privately he has to be in politics to finish the job they started against Thaksin, who remains in exile in London and faces charges for corruption and concealing assets.

Thailand is gearing up for a December 23 general election expected to be contested by three main political groupings, the strongest of which centres around the Democrat Party, the country's oldest.

Some Thaksin supporters have gathered under the People's Power Party after their old Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party was disbanded and its top leadership barred from politics for five years.

Others have joined a third party, For the Motherland, professing to seek the middle ground and national reconciliation after two years of deep political divisions between pro-business modernisers and the traditional royalist elite.

Reuters SG GC1919

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