Armed troops detained a Thai Cabinet minister who defiantly emerged from hiding on Tuesday to condemn last week’s military coup and urge a return to civilian rule, in the first public appearance by any member of the ousted government.
About half a dozen soldiers took Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang into custody in a chaotic scene at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, where he had just finished giving a surprise news conference.
The junta, which seized power Thursday, is already holding most top members of the Southeast Asian country’s elected administration and has ordered the rest to surrender.
Chaturon called for elections and warned that resistance to the army overthrow could grow, which could lead to “a disaster for this country.”
When the news conference was finished and Chaturon was being interviewed by a group of Thai journalists, soldiers entered the room, surrounded him, and escorted him out through a crowd of reporters. He was calm and smiling as he was taken away.
Before being hustled into an elevator, Chaturon said: “I’m not afraid. If I was afraid, I wouldn’t be here.”
The military takeover, Thailand’s second in eight years, deposed an elected government that had insisted for months that the nation’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts, and finally the army.
The country is deeply split between an elite establishment based in Bangkok and the south that cannot win elections on one side, and a poorer majority centered in the north that has begun to realize political and economic power on the other.
A “coup d’état is not a solution to the problems or conflicts in Thai society, but will make the conflicts even worse,” Chaturon said.
Chaturon said he told only a few people in advance of his appearance. He said he would not resist arrest or go underground, but since he does not “accept the coup, I could not report to those who staged it.”
“I still insist to use my own rights and liberty to call for returning the country to democracy,” he said.
After declaring martial law May 20, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha invited political rivals and Cabinet ministers for two days of peace talks to resolve the crisis. But those talks lasted just four hours. At the end of the meeting, Prayuth ordered everyone inside detained, and announced the army was seizing power on state television almost immediately afterward.
Prayuth, who was endorsed Monday by the king as the nation’s new ruler, warned opponents not to criticize or protest, saying Thailand could revert to the “old days” of turmoil and street violence if they did.
Still, small numbers of protesters have gathered on Bangkok streets in defiance of martial law. Several hundred people gathered Monday at Victory Monument and eventually dispersed continued…