BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thirteen days after receiving U.S. Air Force
training to strengthen his troops, military coup leader Gen. Prayuth
Chan-ocha toughened his grip by lifting martial law on April 2 and
enforcing a harsher security law which critics say creates a
1950s-style dictator with "absolute powers."

Washington has criticized Bangkok's regime but maintains close links
with its longtime U.S. ally, partly to balance Thailand's excellent
relations with China.

The newly unveiled security law increases the danger of political
clashes in this Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation.

"We have lifted martial law," effective immediately, the junta
announced on national television.

It is being replaced with Article 44, which allows Gen. Prayuth to
issue any commands -- unchallenged -- based on his "opinion that it is
necessary," the article says.

The announcement enforcing Article 44 ordered all military officers,
ranked 2nd lieutenant and above, to use their subordinates to
"maintain peace," detain suspects, search, occupy and confiscate
property without a court warrant.

"Thailand's friends abroad should not be fooled by this obvious
sleight of hand by the junta leader, to replace martial law with a
constitutional provision that effectively provides unlimited and
unaccountable powers," New York-based Human Rights Watch said on April

"Thailand's deepening descent into dictatorship" must be stopped, it
said, by "concerted pressure from Thailand's allies."

Explaining Thailand's problem with "true democracy" to a female
foreign correspondent, Gen. Prayuth unhooked his shirt's bottom button
during a news conference here on March 31 and said in broken English:
"Thailand is look like a shirt, and the button, the button like this."

He tugged one side of his shirt and the top of his pants, showing they
did not line up properly.

"They wrong, maybe. Thailand not only this, but maybe shirt and trousers."

The frustrated, anger-prone Gen. Prayuth often speaks and behaves
bizarrely in public, making many people jittery about his personality,
secretive intentions, credibility and thoughts.

"If I genuinely had complete power, I would have imprisoned [critics]
or handed them to a firing squad," Gen. Prayuth said in a speech on
March 23 at a Federation of Thai Industries convention here in

He complains that no one listens to his weekly televised monologues --
now running for 10 months every Friday night -- or understands his
"jokes" that "executions" should be meted out to journalists.

"Listen to me. Today I met all the leaders. Former President Clinton,
[the prime minister of] Japan, South Korea. Everyone," Gen. Prayuth
told reporters on March 29 after attending the funeral for Singapore's
former authoritarian leader Lee Kwan Yew alongside world leaders.

"They expressed congratulations that Thailand is peaceful. None of
them criticized me," Gen. Prayuth boasted.

The much-dreaded Article 44 appears in his loophole-riddled interim
constitution, which he created in July after ripping up the country's
2007 constitution.

Gen. Prayuth previously participated in a 2006 coup which invented
that 2007 constitution, after that junta shredded a 1997 constitution.

Gen. Prayuth imposed martial law just before his bloodless May coup
toppled popular elected former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's

The general then sent defiant civilians to "attitude adjustment"
re-education army camps, or military courts for trials.

Shrugging off U.S. and international criticism, Gen. Prayuth appears
confident that a different, much tougher law will finally crush his
opponents, lock Thailand into a "peaceful" status, and be grudgingly
accepted by foreign governments.

Article 44 grants him absolute "powers to make any order to disrupt or
suppress, regardless of the legislative, executive or judicial force
of that order.

"That order, act or any performance in accordance with that order, is
deemed to be legal, constitutional and conclusive," the article says.

"Article 44 provides absolute powers," warned a statement on March 30
by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Human Rights Lawyers
Association, Union for Civil Liberty and other groups.

Article 44 "has no constraint, no oversight, no checks or balances,
and no retribution," a Bangkok Post editorial agreed on March 30.

"Grasping the powers of past dictators such as Sarit Thanarat goes
against logic."

Many Thais shudder when remembering Field Marshal Sarit who, after his
bloodless 1957 coup, used a similar law to execute people by public
and hidden firing squads including alleged communists and their
newspaper's publisher, a Chinese arsonist, and a murderous cult

After establishing his dictatorship, Field Marshal Sarit met U.S.
President Dwight Eisenhower in Washington in 1958 and enjoyed American
military and financial support thanks to President John F. Kennedy at
the start of a regional U.S.-Vietnam War, until Sarit died in office
in 1963.

The next dictator, Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, continued
absolute rule from 1963 to 1973, executing scores of people and
enjoying even more U.S. military and financial aid while the
Pentagon's war worsened.

In February 2015, Washington empowered Gen. Prayuth's troops during a
slightly scaled-down multinational Asia-Pacific Cobra Gold military
training exercise in Thailand.

Additionally, from March 9 through 20, the U.S. Air Force's trilateral
Exercise Cope Tiger 15 included Singaporeans, plus 390 American
personnel, training Gen. Prayuth's troops.

U.S. Air Force units from the 535th Airlift Squadron flew here from
Pacific Air Forces Headquarters at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam,
Hawaii, according to Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs Capt. George

F-15 and E-3 warplanes arrived here from the 44th Fighter Squadron and
the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron, both from the U.S. Kadena Air
Base in Japan.

The 36th Airlift Squadron's C-130s landed here from America's Yokota
Air Base in Japan, also for Cope Tiger's training.

The 517th Airlift Squadron's C-17s came here from Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.