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Thai coup leaders detain ex-PM Yingluck

Photo: AFP

Thailand's new military junta detained ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and two of her family members on Friday, one day after the army seized control of the volatile nation in a bloodless coup.

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“We have detained Yingluck, her sister and brother-in-law,” a senior military officer told Reuters. The two relatives had held top political posts.

“We will do so for not more than [a] week, that would be too long. We just need to organise matters in the country first,“ said the officer, who declined to be identified.

He declined to say where Yingluck was being held, but local media said she was at an army base in Saraburi province, north of Bangkok.

A total of 114 people were instructed to report to a military facility, their names read out in a televised statement by an army spokesman.

Later Friday, the army also banned 155 people, including politicians and activists, from leaving the country “in order to maintain peace and resolve the conflict”.

For seven months, anti-government protesters, or “Yellow Shirts,” have been calling for the removal of the Shinawatra family and its alleged corrupting influence from Thai politics. Yingluck, who was dismissed by the Constitutional Court earlier this month for nepotism, had not been seen in public for several days, but appeared at the army facility after being summoned.

Acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan also reported to the military as ordered, according to Yingluck's aide Wim Rungwattanachinda.

The country’s junta leader, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced he was taking power on Thursday to restore stability and normalcy and stop sporadic outbursts of violence that have left 28 people dead and hundreds injured since the latest round of turmoil began in November.

Supporters of the Shinawatra family, known as the “Red Shirts,” had warned that an overthrow of the government could trigger civil war and all eyes were on how the movement would respond to the coup.

Rumours, curfew

Thailand’s last coup, in 2006, saw the toppling of Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon whose populist movement has won every national election since 2001. He lives in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges, but his opponents, mainly the urban middle and upper class, claim he still wields enormous influence over the country’s political affairs.

In response to rumours that Prime Minister Niwattumrong was being protected at the US Embassy compound in Bangkok, American Ambassador Kristie Kenney tweeted: “Absolutely false. Do not believe rumors.”

Schools across the country were closed on Friday and traffic was lighter than usual in Bangkok, but life in the busy metropolis of 10 million people appeared relatively normal, AP reported, with street vendors, commuters and delivery trucks filling the streets after a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed by the military ended.

However, several hundred people, including students, gathered in a central shopping district despite a ban on protests by five or more people to voice their opposition to military rule. Some held signs saying “No coup” and “Get Out Dictators “.

About 200 soldiers lined up across a road to contain the protesters and eventually dispersed them. There was no serious trouble but at least one person was detained, a Reuters witness said.

Around 80 protesters also gathered in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thaksin’s hometown and powerbase, to denounce the putsch and call for an election, a Reuters witness said. Several policemen watched the protesters, who vowed to gather every day.

In central Bangkok, the few military vehicles that had diverted cars on some major roads overnight were gone, and there were no reports of overnight violence.

The main indication of military presence was on the television, where regular programming was replaced by a static screen showing military crests and the junta’s self-declared name: “National Peace and Order Maintaining Council.”

Coup condemned

The US led international criticism of Thursday's coup, with Secretary of State John Kerry threatening “negative implications for the US-Thai relationship,” although he did not announce immediate punitive steps. The State Department said it was reviewing millions in aid.

“There is no justification for this military coup,” Kerry said in a statement that also called for the release of detained political leaders and a return of press freedom.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “serious concern” over the coup and France and Germany denounced the military takeover.

“The president condemns the seizure of power by the army in Thailand,” a statement by French President François Hollande’s office said. Hollande called for “an immediate return to the constitutional order and for a vote to be organised” as well as the need “for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Thai people to be respected,” the statement added.

Divided country

Thursday’s dramatic events were the culmination of a societal schism laid bare after the 2006 coup deposed former Thaksin.

The conflict pits a majority rural poor in the north and northeast, who benefited from Thaksin’s populist policies, against an urban-based elite based in Bangkok and the south that is concerned it is losing power.

It is a divide that has led to upheaval multiple times in recent years.

Thailand’s political tensions have played out against a backdrop of fears about the future of its monarchy. Thaksin’s critics have accused him of disrespecting ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej and trying to gain influence with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the heir to the throne.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

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