The leader of Thailand's military junta said it could take a year or more before new elections in the country, as he repeated warnings to protesters opposing last week's coup, saying they lack a "true understanding of democracy."

Army Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who leads the National Council for Peace and Order, as the ruling junta calls itself, said in a televised speech on Thursday that the Thai people should "give us time to solve the problems for you. Then the soldiers will step back to look at Thailand from afar."

Gen. Prayuth declared martial law in the Southeast Asian country on May 20, initially insisting it was no coup d'état. Two days later, he seized power and ordered the arrest of politicians, including ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Twice-elected Yingluck was removed by Thailand's Constitutional Court days before the military takeover. Her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was also toppled by a similar coup in 2006.

On Friday, Prayuth said anti-coup protests were standing in the way of the army's desire to return "happiness" to the Thai people.

"[Protests] without a true understanding of democracy" would delay a return of representative government, he said.

"The reason NCPO has taken control of national administration was because of the prolonged political deadlock, protests and violence," he said, referring to months of protests by anti-government activists who openly called for the military's intervention to remove Yingluck.

In a response to international condemnation of the coup, Prayuth said the junta "does understand the feelings of the foreigners."

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