Thai military declares coup, clamps down on media
Thailand's army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized control of the government in a coup two days after he declared martial law, saying the army had to restore order and push through reforms. The army has also clamped down on the media, including partisan television channels, and warned people not to spread inflammatory material on social media.
Prayuth made the announcement in a television broadcast after a meeting to which he had summoned the rival factions in Thailand's drawn-out political conflict, apparently with the aim of finding a solution to six months of anti-government protests.
"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.
The military later declared a 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. curfew.
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 polarized the country and battered its economy.
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, according to media reports.
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.
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 yesterday, 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 negotiations ended inconclusively with neither side backing down from their entrenched positions.
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 joined the second round of talks today.
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.
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.
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.