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Thailand's army declares martial law amid unrest

Photo: AFP

Thailand’s army declared martial law on Tuesday to restore order after six months of anti-government protests with the country’s caretaker prime minister also calling for fresh elections for August 3.

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The martial law declaration did not constitute a coup and was made in response to deteriorating security, an army general said.

“We declared a state of emergency, it’s not a coup. Because of the situation, it’s not stable, they kill each other every day,” a general, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

Troops were patrolling in the capital Bangkok and had secured television stations, according to the general.

“We need cooperation from them to announce to the people ‘do not panic, this is not a coup’,” he said.

Later Tuesday, Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan announced that the government had proposed August 3 as an election date to the Thai Election Commission, hoping to "submit a royal decree" next week for the king to endorse a new national vote. The original election had been tentatively set for July 20.

The premier also said he backed the army’s decision to introduce martial law, saying it could help the proposed election take place, and added that the government would "engage in reforms before the election". He did not give further details.

The government was not consulted in advance by the military about the declaration of martial law but it is still in power, the chief security adviser to Niwattumrong told AFP.

"The caretaker government still exists with Niwattumrong as caretaker prime minister. Everything is normal except the military is responsible for all national security issues," chief security adviser Paradon Pattanatabut said.

The government was not consulted in advance by the military about the declaration of martial law but it is still in power, the chief security adviser to Niwattumrong told AFP.

"The caretaker government still exists with Niwattumrong as caretaker prime minister. Everything is normal except the military is responsible for all national security issues," chief security adviser Paradon Pattanatabut said.

The country has been stuck in political limbo since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine of her ministers were dismissed on May 7 after a court found them guilty of abuse of power.

Thailand’s political crisis began in 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Since then, there have been regular clashes between the royalist establishment and supporters of the Shinawatra family.

Protesters 'surrounded'

Hours after the announcement was made, soldiers encircled a pro-Yingluck protest in Bangkok, a rally leader said.

"We have been surrounded by troops on all sides," leader of the pro-government 'Red Shirts" activists, Jatuporn Prompan, told AFP.

Prompan earlier told Reuters that he and his followers would sustain their protest in the capital until the restoration of “democratic principles” leading to an election.

Asked for his reaction to the army's decision to impose martial law, Prompan, said “that’s fine, we will stay here and continue our protest”.

The army said that under martial law both pro- and anti-government protesters had to remain where they are and cannot march anywhere, in order to prevent clashes. “All groups must stop moving from place to place,” the army said in a televised statement.

The crisis, the latest instalment of a near-decade-long power struggle between ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, and the royalist establishment, has brought the country to the brink of recession.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

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