Thai army denies coup as it declares martial law

2014-05-20 08:44

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Bangkok – Thailand’s army declared martial law nationwide today to restore order after six months of street protests that have left the country without a proper functioning government. But it denied that it was staging a military coup.

While troops patrolled the streets of Bangkok, the caretaker government led by supporters of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was still in office, military and government officials said. Ministers were not informed of the army’s plans before the surprise announcement on television.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military was taking charge of public security because of violent protests that had claimed lives and caused damage. Nearly 30 people have been killed since the protests began in November last year.

“We are concerned this violence could harm the country’s security. To restore law and order to the country, we have declared martial law,” Prayuth said.

An army spokesperson said: “I’m asking all those activist groups to stop all activities and cooperate with us in seeking a way out of this crisis.”

Prayuth had invited government leaders to a meeting today,

Pro- and anti-government protesters are camped out at different places in Bangkok. The army ordered them to remain where they were and not march anywhere to prevent clashes.

The army also called on the media not to broadcast material that would affect national security.

The caretaker government, wary of the army given its past interventions on the side of the establishment, welcomed the move to restore order. It said it had not been informed about martial law in advance but it was still running the country.

“The government doesn’t have a problem with this and can govern the country as normal,” said caretaker justice minister Chaikasem Nitisiri.

Thailand has been stuck in political limbo since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s younger sister, and nine of her ministers were dismissed on May 7 after a court found them guilty of abuse of power. An acting prime minister has since taken over.

The crisis, the latest instalment of a near-decade-long power struggle between former telecoms tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra and the royalist establishment, has brought the country to the brink of recession.

The military, which put down a pro-Thaksin protest movement in 2010, has staged numerous coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

The last one was in 2006 to oust Thaksin Shinawatra – a billionaire who has lived in self-exile since 2008 – but who commands huge support among the poor.

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