Thai coup chief appointed deputy prime minister

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BANGKOK, Oct 2 (Reuters) Thailand's newly retired army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last year, has been appointed deputy prime minister, the royal palace said today.

It did not say what his area of responsibility would be, but Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said yesterday a new deputy prime minister would be in charge of national security.

Sonthi, who retired last weekend and quit as chairman of the military council that toppled Thaksin, said taking the post did not mean he intended to cling on to power, as critics believe, but reflected his desire to serve the country.

''I can't avoid this responsibility to tackle the problems the country is facing now,'' Sonthi told reporters after welcoming wellwishers to his home on his 61th birthday.

''This new role will give me an opportunity to do real work, much more focused than the role as the chairman of the CNS,'' he said, referring to the Council for National Security, as the coup leaders call themselves.

Surayud, himself a former army chief, has been under pressure to quit after five cabinet ministers had to resign when graft busters found they owned stakes in companies greater than ministers were allowed.

However, Surayud has insisted he will stay on to guide the country through a general election scheduled for December 23.

REUTERS ARB PM1605

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