Thai coup draws swift condemnation

2014-05-22 21:53
Thai Army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha looks on during a press conference at the Army Club in Bangkok. (Pornchai kittiwongsakul, AFP)

Thai Army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha looks on during a press conference at the Army Club in Bangkok. (Pornchai kittiwongsakul, AFP)

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Washington - The military takeover in Thailand drew swift international condemnation on Thursday, with the United States saying it was reviewing its military aid and other dealings with its closest ally in Southeast Asia.

Thailand's army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, seized control of the government two days after he declared martial law, saying the military had to restore order and push through reforms after six months of turmoil.

The military declared a curfew from 22:00 until 05:00, suspended the constitution and told outgoing cabinet ministers to report to an army base in the north of the capital, Bangkok, by the end of the day. Rival protest camps were ordered to disperse.

"There is no justification for this military coup," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

"While we value our long friendship with the Thai people, this act will have negative implications for the US-Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military. We are reviewing our military and other assistance and engagements, consistent with US law."

Kerry also said he was concerned by reports senior political leaders of Thailand's major parties had been detained and he called for their release. He urged the "immediate" restoration of civilian government and the lifting of curbs on the media.

The Pentagon said it was reviewing its military co-operation, including an ongoing drill in Thailand involving some 700 US Marines and sailors.

After a 2006 coup in Thailand, the United States suspended about $24m in assistance to the country under a US law that curbs aid after an elected leader is deposed by a military takeover. The aid included funds to promote military professionalism as well as for peacekeeping and arms purchases.

The political unrest in Thailand is an unwanted headache for Washington at a time of rising tensions in the region due to territorial disputes involving an increasingly assertive China.

Extreme concern

The European Union said it was following developments in Thailand "with extreme concern."

"The military must accept and respect the constitutional authority of the civilian power as a basic principle of democratic governance," a spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

"It is of the utmost importance that Thailand returns rapidly to the legitimate democratic process. In this respect, we stress the importance of holding credible and inclusive elections as soon as feasible."

French President Francois Hollande and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier condemned the takeover. Hollande called for "an immediate return to constitutional order and the organization of an electoral process."

Steinmeier said in a statement: "Holding rapid new elections is key. Constitutional rights must be upheld. These include press freedom." He advised Germans in Thailand to avoid crowds and to follow security updates from his ministry.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida termed the takeover "regrettable" and called for the "swift restoration of a democratic political system".

Singapore, Thailand's partner in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), expressed "grave concern."

Un-seize power

"We hope that all parties involved will exercise restraint and work towards a positive outcome, and avoid violence and bloodshed," a spokesperson for its foreign ministry said.

"Thailand is an important regional country and a key member of ASEAN. Prolonged uncertainties will set back Thailand and the region as a whole. As a close friend of Thailand, we hope that the situation will return to normal as soon as possible."

John Sifton, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said it was important for the United States and others to put serious diplomatic pressure on the Thai military.

"Suspending assistance is but one avenue," he said. "It's about telling the Thai military that every aspect of the diplomatic relationship, multilateral included, in terms of the ASEAN-related things, is at stake."

Sifton said calling for elections was not enough.

"That is not the quickest way to reverse this. You don't need elections to reverse the coup. You can simply un-seize power."

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Read more on:    asean  |  prayuth chan-ocha  |  thailand

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