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Thailand on Edge

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Thailand Army Coup Seizes Government

May 22nd 2014

Thai Coup

Thailand's army chief announced a military takeover of the government Thursday, saying the coup was necessary to restore stability after six months of political deadlock and turmoil.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a statement broadcast on national television that the same military commission that had imposed martial law Tuesday would now take control of the country's administration. Prayuth will head the body, a deputy spokesman said late Thursday.

The army also announced a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and a suspension of the country's constitution.

"In order for the country to return to normal quickly, the National Peace Keeping Committee comprised of the army, the Thai armed forces, the Royal Air Force and the police need to seize power as of May 22 at 4:30 p.m.,” Prayuth said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that he was "seriously concerned" about the developments, and appealed for the military to return Thailand to civilian rule.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was “no justification” for the military coup, according to a State Department news release. “While we value our long friendship with the Thai people,” Kerry said in the release, “this act will have negative implications for the U.S.-Thai relationship, especially our relationship with the Thai military. We are reviewing our military and other assistance and engagements, consistent with U.S. law”

The army has banned gatherings of more than five protesters, and told anti-government protesters to leave the square in Bangkok where demonstrations have been taking place since November.

On the outskirts of the capital, where pro-government protesters have been holding demonstrations, soldiers fired shots into the air in an attempt to disperse the thousands of people gathered there. The military detained at least one of the pro-government "Red Shirts" activists, according to military spokesman Thanawut Wichaidit.

But a witness stated late Thursday that anti-government protesters are still grouping in large numbers in the center of the city, and that the Red Shirts were still holding protests on its outskirts.

The witness, a foreign national who has lived in Bangkok for 10 years, said that things were relatively peaceful in the city despite the coup. "It’s not like coups in other countries," he said. "Incidents of violence have been isolated, so you just stay away from certain areas. We've been through this before." Thailand has a long history of governments changing by military coup. Another witness in Bangkok said that service on the city’s metro rail lines had been suspended, and that radio stations’ usual programming had been replaced with what sounded like "military music" and a repeating announcement about the coup.

The pivotal developments came after Prayuth declared martial law on Tuesday in what he called a bid to resolve the crisis.

Since then the military has imposed several new "edicts" including one banning media that may incite conflict or unrest, causing at least 14 partisan TV networks — both pro- and anti-government — to shut down.

Nearly 3,000 unlicensed community radio stations across Thailand have also been ordered to close. Newspapers have been warned not to publish articles that could incite unrest. The army says violators will be prosecuted. But so far none have.

On Wednesday Prayuth summoned the country's rival political leaders for face-to-face talks. Two days of talks failed to break the impasse.

Shortly before the announcement of the takeover, armed soldiers in military vehicles surrounded the military facility where the politicians were meeting. The move was apparently meant to block those inside from leaving.

Many of the country's highest-profile figures were summoned for the meeting. They included the acting prime minister — who sent four Cabinet ministers in his place — and anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, as well as Suthep's rival from Red Shirts, Jatuporn Prompan. Reporters at the meeting said Suthep and Jatuporn were escorted out of the meeting by soldiers.

Government official Paradorn Pattanathabutr, contacted shortly after the announcement, said that the four ministers attending the meeting were still being held by the military.

"The rest of us who are outside are still fine and in the safe places. However, the situation is very worrying. We have to monitor it closely and don't know what else can happen," he said.

Thailand has been gripped by bouts of political instability for more than seven years.

The latest round of unrest started in November, when demonstrators took to the streets to try to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down. They accused her of being a proxy for her popular billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence on a corruption conviction.

The coup announced Thursday was the 12th since the country's absolute monarchy ended in 1932. The military has been widely viewed as sympathetic to the protesters seeking to oust the current government.

Paul Chambers, a professor at Chiang Mai University’s Institute for South-East Asian Affairs, told the Washington Post that Thailand has experienced nearly 30 coup attempts – some successful, some not – since 1912.

"We ask the public not to panic and to carry on their lives normally," Prayuth said. "And civil servants, stay in every ministry, carry on your responsibilities as normal."


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