The United States suspended most of its aid to Thailand on Saturday to protest the overthrow of the government by military leaders.

"The United States strongly supports constitutional rule and deeply regrets the overthrow of Thailand's democratically elected government," the State Department said in a statement urging leaders of the bloodless coup to restore the country to democratic rule immediately.Military chiefs toppled the government of the Asian country early Saturday, accusing it of corruption and of protecting enemies of the monarchy.

The decision to suspend the $16.4 million in U.S. aid - most of it for development projects - was in keeping with U.S. law that forbids assistance to countries whose democratic governments have been deposed.

The cutoff does not affect another $4 million the United States gives Thailand annually to help eradicate drug cultivation and trafficking.

"Clearly it's in the U.S. interest to continue that program," said one official. The U.S. anti-narcotics program in Thailand is one of the largest in the world.

The State Department said the coup did not appear to endanger the estimated 10,000 Americans in Thailand, but it urged them to be careful.

The department issued an advisory several weeks ago urging Americans to exercise caution while traveling to Thailand. That advisory remains in effect.

The United States is concerned about the fate of Prime Minister Chatchai Choonhaven, who was arrested by the coup leaders, the State Department said.

The United States is not in touch with that group of generals, the department said.

Late Saturday the military announced that the coup group had traveled to Chieng Mai in northern Thailand to explain the reasons for their actions to King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Bhumibol, widely revered by the Thai people, is seen as the key to popular acceptance of the military takeover. Royal disapproval was seen as part of the reason for the failure of coup attempts in 1981 and 1985.