The approval on Monday – a mere formality from the ageing King Bhumibol Adulyadej – follows Prayuth’s appointment last week by the military-majority national assembly, who voted in the sole candidate unanimously.
Dressed in a while military uniform and flanked by officers, Prayuth said: “I consider this the highest honour of my life,” and added: “I am ready to get tired.”
The royal endorsement will allow Prayuth – who is due to stand down as army chief next month – to establish an interim government until elections are held some time in late 2015. He is expected to form a new cabinet by October and described his priorities as preparing the country for national reform and establishing prosperity, according to media reports.
“Our country has accumulated many problems … which need to be urgently solved,” he said. “To do this we must not create future problems.”
Prayuth, 60, is the first coup leader to serve as prime minister in nearly 60 years and his appointment was condemned by opponents.
The ruling junta, named the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has also come under fire both at home and abroad for cracking down on dissidents; detaining politicians, journalists, critics and activists; shutting down newspapers, radio and TV stations; imposing martial law; and handpicking a military-dominated parliament that now has more officers in it than Burma’s.
Prayuth seized control on 22 May after six months of sometimes bloody protests that left the nation in legislative paralysis and saw 28 people killed and over 700 injured.
The coup removed the democratically elected PM, Yingluck Shinawatra, from office eight years after her brother Thaksin was also removed from his post as prime minister – in yet another coup that also involved Prayuth.
The Khmer Rouge is poised to seize power after nearly five years of civil war. The Guardian’s Martin Woollacott reports on the fears of a “bloodbath” if they take over. A general tells him that whenever government soldiers are captured “almost all the officers are killed.”
A bank worker says: “I am not afraid because I am not corrupt. If the Khmer Rouge win, there will be blood on the streets. But they will only kill the corrupt people who take American aid and don’t give it to the poor people.”
The Khmer Rouge takes over after a three-month siege of Phnom Penh. There are celebrations on the street and the communists’ victory is welcomed by China. “The Chinese people will forever stand by you,” Chairman Mao says. Cambodia is renamed Kampuchea and its new leader, Pol Pot, declares Year Zero.
Executions are being used as a method of social control, according to a report from Woollacott, citing reports from refugees. “Every disappearance, from village, factory or town, is assumed to have ended in death in some forest clearing or at some river edge,” he writes. “There was at least in some regions a police of physical extermination on the worst of the class enemies – army and police officers and, less certainly, civil servants and intellectuals. How far it went, whether the orders came from Phnom Penh or at the initiative or local Khmer Rouge commanders, cannot be measured.”
Woollacott says journalists were sceptical of initial fears of a bloodbath in Cambodia. He also notes leftwing support for the Khmer Rouge and a tendency to dismiss reports of executions as CIA fabrications. He admits that he and many others were wrong to doubt the brutality of the Khmer Rouge, after the publication of a book about their atrocities based on interviews with 300 refugees.
“What emerges is a kaleidoscope of horror scenes that stay in the mind long after the book has been been closed … The heads of 40 young women buried up to their necks and then knifed in the throat, sticking up out of the ground like cabbages; the bayoneting to death of civil servants and their families …; a gang of eight and 10-year-olds heaving on the gallows rope from the other end of which dangled their schoolmaster.”
The Guardian publishes a 4,000-word extract of Cambodia Year Zero, by Francois Ponchaud. It reports claims that up to 1.4 million were killed by the Khmer Rouge. “One or two million young people are enough to make the new Kampuchea!” was the blood-chilling boast of the Khmer Rouge, which they are now turning into a grim reality,” it says.
Around 1000 people from different backgrounds and denominations filled St Patrick’s cathedral in Melbourne on Thursday morning to remember people lost in the MH17 tragedy and to support their friends and families as part of a national day of mourning.
The focus was on them, as talk of blame and of justice for the victims was put on hold to focus on the suffering of those left behind and the need to offer them comfort.
The friends and family of those killed held each other tightly as clergy, government officials and dignitaries spoke, as the Australian Boys’ Choir sang, and as the names and photographs of the dead were displayed, one by one, on screens throughout the cathedral.
The Catholic archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, used his opening address to acknowledge their pain and the terror they must have felt as news emerged that flight MH17 had been shot out of the sky. He said there had been an outpouring of love for them, which he hoped provided some comfort, though he said it would not take away the pain.
“We stand in solidarity with those who are suffering unimaginable loss,” he said as he opened the memorial ceremony.
The Australian Boys’ Choir sang the national anthem, followed by a multifaith opening prayer from representatives of 12 belief systems, including Jewish, Hindu, Islamic and Catholic denominations.
The governor-general, Sir Peter Cosgrove, offered a moving tribute to those killed as he wore a white wristband with the words “we will never forget you” in Dutch.
He was also present at a repatriation ceremony for the victims held on the tarmac of a Netherlands air base just over two weeks ago.
“Our thoughts were consumed by lives cut short, those left behind and the intolerable heartbreak caused by this tragedy,” Cosgrove said.
“So often words do not and cannot express our true feelings and thoughts during such a time of great loss.”
He acknowledged the resilience of the families of those killed, and referred specifically to Rin and Anthony Maslin, who lost their children Mo, Evie and Otis, and the children’s grandfather, Nick Norris, to the tragedy.
“Even at such a time, even the most deeply bereaved can demonstrate extraordinary fortitude,” he said.
“The Maslin family has expressed so powerfully some of how they feel, that in spite of the enormity of their loss and the depth of their despair, their love exceeds and surmounts all the hatred in the world.
“There is nothing stronger or more powerful than the love we have for our children, our partner, our parents, our family, our friends.”
He also offered condolences and heartfelt thanks to the people of the Netherlands, who he said had embraced each and every one of the dead as though their own.
“Thank you for the compassionate and dignified way you have paid respects, for the minutes of silence, the ringing church bells, the flags flying at half mast and the sea of flowers. We thank you for your kindness and humanity as you too deal with tremendous loss.”
His words were followed with a reading from the Netherlands ambassador, Annemieke Ruigrok, and the high commissioner for Malaysia, Zainal Abidin Ahmad.
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said those on board MH17 were “innocent, unoffending and precious”.
“We mourn 38 of our own who laughed and learned and loved beneath the southern cross,” he said.
“Today is not about why or how, it is about who we have lost and what we will miss.”
To the families, he said: “It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this painful hour.
“But I hope you can draw modest consolation from our nation’s great, invisible, generous, sustaining sympathy, and from the knowledge that you do not walk alone today.
“You loved wonderful people who lived meaningful lives.”
Katie Noonan performed an acoustic version of the song, Even When I’m Sleeping, and returned to the stage later to close the service with I am Australian.
The prime minister, Tony Abbott, followed her performance, saying that almost three weeks ago today families and friends of the MH17 victims woke up to the “very worst news imaginable”.
He used his tribute to reiterate the importance of bringing home the 38 Australians who were among the 298 shot down.
“May those we have lost arrive home to the people and country they loved,” he said.
“We cannot bring them back, but we will bring them home as far as we humanly can, and we rededicate ourselves to supporting the bereaved.”
Abbott also described the contribution those Australians killed had made to society. A time to judge those responsible and bring them to justice would come, he said, but the memorial service was to recognise the meaningful lives of those killed.
“[They were] doctors who worked with refugees, teachers who worked with children, with people who are disabled, volunteers in armed forces and local charities, business innovators, and pillars of local communities, young people filled with passion for the lives before them,” he said.
“Somehow, we who have not been bereaved must reach out to those who have and show by our love. That love has not abandoned them – you have not been abandoned and you never will be.”
The families of the victims then filed to the front of the cathedral, where they laid flowers in remembrance of those they loved, and will miss, so much.