Thai army seizes power in coup23 May 2014 BBC Online
Thailand's military on Thursday announced it is taking control of the government and has suspended the constitution.In a TV statement, army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha vowed to restore order and enact political reforms.The cabinet has been told to report to the military, TV broadcasting is suspended and political gatherings are banned. A nationwide curfew will operate from 22:00 to 05:00 local time.The coup follows months of political turmoil in Thailand.See also Editorial page-5On Tuesday the army imposed martial law. Talks were then held between the main political factions, but the army announced the coup on Thursday.Key political figures, including opposition protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and pro-government protest leader Jatuporn Prompan, were taken away from the talks venue after troops sealed off the area.Troops fired into the air to disperse a pro-government protest camp on the outskirts of Bangkok but there are no reports of major violence.The soldiers have moved rapidly to consolidate their position, moving in on the "red shirt" camp, the broad protest movement linked to the government, on the outskirts of Bangkok. They are also moving towards the anti-government demonstrators' camp in the centre of town.A curfew has just been declared, so the military is obviously making efforts to make sure there is no immediate response to its announcement. Those people who voted for what is still the elected government here will feel extremely annoyed and frustrated by what has happened.Most people are expecting the "red shirts" to rally now and are extremely concerned about the possibility of confrontation.Gen Prayuth said he had taken over power because "of the violence in Bangkok and many parts of the country that resulted in loss of innocent lives and property, [which] was likely to escalate".He added: "We ask the public not to panic and to carry on their lives normally."In a later a statement read on television the military said that "in order to run the country smoothly, [it has] suspended the constitution of 2007, except for the chapter on the monarchy".The statement said Gen Prayuth would head a ruling military body - the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council - but that the upper house of parliament and courts would continue to function.The Thai army has 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.Some of the other meeting participants were being held back in the venue afterwards, said a Reuters reporter waiting outside.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, a spokesman for the group said.The military detained at least one leader of the activists, said the spokesman, Thanawut Wichaidit.A Reuters witness later said the protesters were leaving peacefully. Earlier, their leader, Jatuporn Prompan, said they would continue their rally despite the coup and the order to disperse.The army had declared martial law on Tuesday, saying the move was necessary to prevent violence, but it rejected accusations its actions amounted to a coup.In a first round of talks on Wednesday, Prayuth had called on the two sides to agree on a compromise that would have hinged around the appointment of an interim prime minister, political reforms and the timing of an election.Wednesday's talks ended inconclusively with neither side backing down from their entrenched positions, participants said. The army has also clamped down on the media, including partisan television channels, and warned people not to spread inflammatory material on social media.Leaders of the ruling Puea Thai Party and the opposition Democrat Party, the Senate leader and the five-member Election Commission had joined the second round of talks on Thursday.Acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, who did not attend, told reporters before the talks that his government could not resign as its enemies were demanding as that would contravene the constitution."The government wants the problem solved in a democratic way which includes a government that comes from elections," he said. Government officials were not available for comment after the coup announcement.Former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin has lived in self-exile since 2008 to avoid a jail term for graft, but still commands the loyalty of legions of rural and urban poor and exerts a huge influence over politics, most recently through a government run by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.Yingluck was forced to step down as premier by a court two weeks ago, but her caretaker government, buffeted by six months of protests against it, had remained nominally in power despite the declaration of martial law this week.Thailand's gross domestic product contracted 2.1 percent in January-March from the previous three months, largely because of the unrest, adding to fears it is stumbling into recession. The protesters want to rid the country of the influence of Thaksin, who they say is a corrupt crony capitalist who commandeered Thailand's fragile democracy and used taxpayers' money to buy votes with populist giveaways.They wanted a "neutral" interim prime minister to oversee electoral reforms before any new vote.The government and its supporters said a general election that it would likely win was the best way forward and it had proposed polls on August 3, to be followed by reforms.Earlier on Thursday, anti-government protest leader Suthep, a former deputy prime minister in a government run by the pro-establishment Democrat Party, told his supporters victory was imminent.Twenty-eight people have been killed and 700 injured since this latest chapter in the power struggle between Thaksin and the royalist elite flared up late last year.