Thailand’s army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized control of the government in a coup on Thursday, two days after he declared martial law, saying the military had to restore order and push through reforms after six months of turmoil.
The military declared a 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. curfew, suspended the constitution and told outgoing cabinet ministers to report to an army base in the north of the capital by the end of the day. Rival protest camps were ordered to disperse.
Thailand is locked in a protracted power struggle between supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and opponents backed by the royalist establishment that has polarised the country and battered its economy.
“In order for the situation to return to normal quickly and for society to love and be at peace again … and to reform the political, economic and social structure, the military needs to take control of power,” Prayuth said in the televised address.
The general made his broadcast after a meeting to which he had summoned the rival factions in Thailand’s drawn-out political conflict, with the aim of finding a compromise to end six months of anti-government protests.
But no progress was made and Prayuth wound up the gathering by announcing he was seizing power, according to a participant. The Thai armed forces have a long history of intervening in politics – there have been 18 previous successful or attempted coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, most recently when Thaksin was deposed in 2006.
Hundreds of soldiers surrounded the meeting at Bangkok’s Army Club shortly before the coup announcement and troops took away Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the protests against the pro-Thaksin government.
SHOTS FIRED INTO AIR
The army ordered rival protest camps to break up and soldiers fired into the air to disperse thousands of pro-government “red shirt” activists gathered in Bangkok’s western outskirts. The military detained at least one leader of the activists, said a spokesman for the group, Thanawut Wichaidit.
The protesters later left peacefully. The army also ordered television and radio stations to halt normal programmes and only broadcast its material, and banned gatherings of more than five people. Earlier, it warned people not to spread inflammatory material on social media.
The army had declared martial law on Tuesday, saying it was necessary to prevent violence. Twenty-eight people have been killed and 700 injured since the anti-government protests erupted late last year.
“Martial law may have been to test the waters, the army gave the opposing camps a chance to negotiate a way out but I think the endgame was always the military taking over,” said Kan Yuanyong of the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank.
“The possibility of conflict is now much higher,” he said. “Thaksin will fight back.”
Former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin has lived in self-exile since 2008 to avoid a jail term for graft, but still commands the loyalty of continued…