Thailand’s junta said on Monday it had ordered the Thai ambassadors to the United States and Britain to meet human rights groups in an effort to “create understanding” about its seizure of power. Several Western governments have spoken out against the May 22 coup, calling for a speedy return to democracy. Rights groups have urged the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to curb its powers to detain and prosecute civilians.
“The NCPO has ordered Thailand’s ambassadors in New York and London to meet representatives from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to create understanding,” Yongyuth Mayalarp, a spokesman for the NCPO, told reporters. Representatives at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch confirmed they had been invited to meet the ambassadors. Rights activists have been called in by the military and warned against speaking to foreign media.
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said he took power to restore order after nearly seven months of political turmoil in the polarised country. He has launched a reconciliation campaign aimed at healing divisions. Prayuth is due to meet foreign diplomats on Wednesday to brief them on the military administration’s plans.
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The NCPO ordered political parties on Monday to suspend activities. When the military scrapped the constitution after the coup it was unclear whether parties would continue to exist. The coup was the latest chapter in a power struggle between the Bangkok-based royalist establishment and supporters of ousted former populist premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose stronghold is in the rural north and northeast.
Thaksin’s removal in a 2006 coup did nothing to heal the divide and the military now appears intent on finishing what it started then, shuffling senior civil servants and military personnel to blunt the power Thaksin loyalists. The ousted government was headed by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, until she was ordered to step down on May 7 after a court found her guilty of abuse of power.
The NCPO has moved swiftly to revive an economy battered by months of chaos. On Saturday, Prayuth declared himself head of the Board of Investment, a position typically held by the prime minister. He has said that this week the junta would begin approving projects to stimulate the economy. It is reviewing a contentious 350 billion baht ($10.8 billion) water management plan and 2 trillion baht in infrastructure projects initiated by the former government.
The water management plan was suspended in 2013 and a court ordered Yingluck to hold more public hearings into it. The Constitutional Court ruled against the infrastructure plan in March, saying the funding methods were illegal. Yingluck’s government had hoped to boost growth through projects including high-speed railways and highways. While the junta steamrolls ahead with plans for reform and stimulus, it has launched campaigns to “bring back happiness”, including free concerts and food stalls.
It has imposed a ban on political gatherings of more than five people and a nationwide curfew, now running from midnight to 4 a.m. However, over the past week, it has lifted the curfew in 10 holiday spots to help stimulate tourism, which accounts for more than 10 percent of the economy. Still, many have found creative ways to show disapproval of the coup, including handing out “democracy sandwiches” in parks and at university campuses.
Thousands of police and troops were deployed over the weekend to counter anti-coup protesters flashing a three-fingered salute that has become a symbol of defiance, although the number of people challenging the military appears to have dwindled. Protesters face up to two years in jail. The military has detained more than 300 people since taking over, although most were released after a few days. ($1 = 32.4300 baht)