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Thai military seizes power, suspends constitution

AFP

Thailand’s army chief announced a coup d’état on Thursday, declaring that it was “necessary” to restore stability and order after six months of political deadlock and turmoil.

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In a televised statement, General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that a military commission, which imposed martial law on Tuesday, would now take control of the country’s administration.

“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.

An army spokesman later said it had dissolved the country’s caretaker government and suspended the constitution, but that the Senate would remain in place.

A curfew was declared from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. and the army ordered all television and radio stations in the country to cease normal programming and only broadcast army material.

It also said it had ordered former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and three other relatives of controversial billionaire-turned-politician Thaksin Shinawatra to report to military authorities on Friday.

That followed an earlier request for ministers in Thailand's now-deposed government, including acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, to report to the armed forces.

The pivotal developments came after Prayuth declared martial law on Tuesday in what he called a bid to resolve the crisis and a day later summoned the country’s rival political leaders for face-to-face talks. But after two days of negotiations, the meeting failed to break the impasse.

Shortly before the announcement was made, armed soldiers in military vehicles surrounded the military facility where the politicians were meeting, apparently to block those inside from leaving.

Many of the country’s highest-profile figures were summoned for the talks. They included the acting prime minister – who sent four Cabinet ministers in his place - and anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, as well as Suthep’s rival from the pro-government group, Jatuporn Prompan. Reporters at the meeting said Suthep and Jatuporn were escorted out by soldiers.

A government official, Paradorn Pattanathabutr, contacted shortly after the announcement said that the four ministers attending the meeting were still being held by the military.

“The rest of us who are outside are still fine and in safe places. However, the situation is very worrying. We have to monitor it closely and don’t know what else can happen,” he said.

Protesters ordered to disperse

Thailand has been gripped by bouts of political instability for more than seven years.

The latest round of unrest started in November, when demonstrators took to the streets to try to force Yingluck to step down.

They accused her of being a proxy for her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence on a corruption conviction.

Yingluck was forced to step down as premier by a court two weeks ago, but her caretaker government had remained nominally in power.

Thaksin supporters, known as “red shirts”, have staged protests of their own with regular clashes erupting between the rival groups.

The army on Thursday ordered rival protest camps to break up and soldiers fired into the air to disperse thousands of pro-government activists gathered in Bangkok’s western outskirts, a spokesman for the group said.

The military detained at least one activist leader, said the spokesman, Thanawut Wichaidit.

A Reuters witness later said the protesters were leaving peacefully. Earlier, their leader, Prompan, said they would continue their rally despite the coup and the order to disperse.

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.

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.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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