Last updated Thursday, July 24, 2014 06:35pm

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel (pic) urges the Thai military to release those detained and call for elections. ― File picUS Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel (pic) urges the Thai military to release those detained and call for elections. ― File picSINGAPORE, May 31 ― US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel today urged Thailand's coup leaders to release detainees and call for elections immediately.

“We urge the Royal Thai Armed Forces to release those who have been detained, end restrictions on free expression, and move immediately to restore power to the people of Thailand, through free and fair elections,” Hagel said at a top Asian security conference in Singapore.

“Until that happens, as US law requires, DoD (Department of Defense) is suspending and reconsidering US military assistance and engagements with Bangkok,” he said at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.

Thailand's junta chief on Friday ruled out elections for at least a year to allow time for political “reforms”, and defended the May 22 military coup in the face of rising international alarm.

General Prayuth Chan-Ocha said the new military regime planned to work towards returning the nation of 67 million people to democracy in around 15 months.

The United States cancelled a military exercise with Thailand and scrapped planned visits by officials after the Thai army seized power.

The cancelled military exercise, dubbed Cooperation of Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), usually involves several hundred US Marines and sailors.

The scrapped visits had been planned for June ― one to Thailand by US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris and another to the US Pacific Command in Hawaii by a high-ranking Thai military official.

The US military has long-standing ties to Thailand's armed forces, dating back to the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Thailand was represented at the Singapore forum by a relatively low-level delegation that included Sihasak Phuangketkeow, permanent secretary at the foreign ministry, rather than senior generals and defence ministry officials like other countries.

Thailand's army took power after months of unrest and deadly political violence, provoking an international outcry and heightening fears for the future of the Asian country and its fragile democracy.

The military takeover was the 19th actual or attempted putsch in its modern history and the coup leaders immediately set about rounding up scores of political figures, academics and activists.

Authorities have abrogated the constitution, curtailed civil liberties under martial law and imposed a nightly curfew. ― AFP