Thailand's Army Seizes Power in Coup

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Thailand's army chief seized power in a military coup on Thursday, ordering rival protesters off the streets and deposing the government in a bid to end months of political bloodshed.

General Prayut Chan-O-Cha made the announcement in a televised address to the nation, saying the powerful armed forces had to act to restore stability in the Southeast Asian nation.

The military declared a nationwide curfew from 10 pm to 5 am and ordered demonstrators on both sides of the kingdom's political divide to disperse and go home after nearly seven months of political rallies in the capital.

It banned gatherings of more than five people, summoned the ousted cabinet to report to the army and suspended the constitution -- except for the section related to the monarchy.

Moments before Prayut's stunning announcement, witnesses said they saw leaders of Thailand's two main political parties and its rival protest movements being taken by the military from a venue where Prayut had convened talks aimed at resolving their differences.

It was unclear if they had been formally detained.

The tough-talking Prayut, 60, said he seized power because of "the violence in Bangkok and many parts of the country that resulted in loss of innocent lives and property and was likely to escalate."

It is the latest twist in a nearly decade-long political crisis stretching back to an earlier coup in 2006 that deposed the controversial tycoon-turned-politician Thaksin Shinawatra as premier -- a move that infuriated his supporters.

"All Thais must remain calm and government officials must work as normal," Prayut said in the brief announcement around 5 pm (1000 GMT), flanked by four of his top officers.

Rumors of an imminent coup had gripped Thailand since Tuesday, when the army chief declared martial law to prevent deadly political tensions spiraling out of control.

The overthrow caps months of increasing political tension pitting a Bangkok-based royalist elite and its backers against the democratically elected government aligned to Thaksin, whose sister Yingluck was dismissed as premier earlier this month in a controversial court ruling.

Thaksin now lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction, but he and his political allies retain strong support in Thailand, particularly in the rural north, and have won every general election since 2001.

Prayut's announcement came shortly after the opposing camps and other top political actors had gathered for a second straight day of closed-door reconciliation talks at a heavily guarded military facility in the capital Bangkok.

Some experts expressed fears the military takeover could unleash more turmoil.

"The coup is not a solution at all to end the crisis. This will become the crisis," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Japan's Kyoto University.

"It shows the military has never learned the lesson from 2006," he said, referring to the cycle of political crisis stemming from Thaksin's overthrow.

Pavin said the coup would make anti-government protesters "very happy".

Protests by the anti-Thaksin movement have rocked Thailand for months. Related violence has left at least 28 people dead and hundreds wounded.

The army chief likely took over due to the weakened caretaker government's refusal to make way for an interim regime, said Paul Chambers of the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University.

"Since the caretaker government was resisting moving to an ad hoc prime minister, Prayut was pressured to take the 2006 option," he said.

Caretaker premier Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who had refused calls to step down, was among the ministers ordered to report to the army.

Niwattumrong was "safe" in an undisclosed location, an aide said.

Prayut, a staunch royalist aligned with the anti-Thaksin bloc, had earlier vowed not to allow Thailand to become another "Ukraine or Egypt."

"What I am doing in my security capacity -- if I upset anyone, I apologize but it is necessary," he said on Thursday before the coup announcement.

Thailand's democratic development has now been repeatedly been curbed by a total of 19 actual or attempted coups since 1932.

Martial law gives the military wide powers to ban public gatherings, restrict movements, and detain people, though most of those powers had not been invoked before the coup.

The military has taken steps to muzzle the media since Tuesday. On Thursday it announced after the coup that all public and private television and radio stations must suspend normal programming and only broadcast army feeds.

The step was taken to ensure the release of "accurate news to the people," an army spokesman said in a televised announcement.

All television channels in the Southeast Asian kingdom including foreign broadcasters such as CNN, BBC, and CNBC ran a constant military feed featuring a succession of brief announcements related to the government takeover.

Between the bulletins, a static screen was shown depicting the emblems of the various branches of Thailand's armed forces, as patriotic Thai songs played.

Prayut gave no indication how long the military would hold power. He said it took over in order to "start political reform", without giving details.

The pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" movement had called for new national polls they hope will provide a fresh mandate to the beleaguered elected government.

But the anti-government movement has first demanded vague political reforms that are widely seen as a bid to cripple the political power of Thaksin's family and allies, and some Thais welcomed the army takeover.

Arnusit Chenruk, a 39-year-old Bangkok office worker, said the coup was a "good" thing.

"Our country has been chaotic and has had no solutions for a long time."

Later on Thursday, the junta ordered ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra and three other relatives of controversial billionaire-turned-politician Thaksin Shinawatra to report to military authorities on Friday.

The summons appeared to broaden the scope of those called in by leaders of the military coup.

A bulletin read out on national television said Yingluck, Thaksin's younger sister who was dismissed as premier this month in a contentious court ruling, must present herself at 10:00 am (0300 GMT) Friday.

The junta also ordered the presence of her brother-in-law, former premier Somchai Wongsawat, and two other relatives, "in order to maintain peace and smoothly solve national problems."

It gave no hint of what might happen after their appearances.

The exiled Thaksin, a former prime minister himself, along with his family and allies have been at the center of a bitter power struggle lasting nearly a decade, pitting forces sympathetic to him against a Bangkok-based royalist bloc.

Comments 4
Default-user-icon mazen (Guest) 22 May 2014, 16:53

Inshala 3anna kameen.. About time that our army seizes power and throws all those corrupt politician, and M.P.s in jail!

Thumb -phoenix1 22 May 2014, 17:24

Ah if only this happened here too in Lebanon, and get us rid of our corrupt politicians.

Thumb FlameCatcher 22 May 2014, 17:45

This is Hezbollah's next move to put Aoun in Power ! FORCE !

Default-user-icon js (Guest) 23 May 2014, 01:01

fruits of democracy