Curfew Imposed, Street Protestors Ordered to Disband
BANGKOK—Thailand’s army chief announced a military coup in a televised statement Thursday, after two attempts to negotiate an end to a monthslong political impasse failed.
The military, together with the police, “needs to seize control of the situation in the country, effective May 22,” Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said, citing the worry that political violence could escalate.
The country’s Constitution was “temporarily suspended,” the military announced, excluding any articles related to the monarchy. And the military said it terminated the caretaker government but said it expected the nation’s Senate, courts and independent organizations to function normally.
The military imposed a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., ordered all street protesters to leave their rallying sites and banned gatherings of more than five people.
Gen. Prayuth’s announcement came after he headed a second day of meetings with pro- and antigovernment groups, top government ministers and other key figures in Thai politics.
The meeting lasted for more than two hours. Then, armed soldiers were deployed and reporters were ordered to stay away. Meeting participants were rushed out in vehicles, headed off to an unknown location.
All regular television programing was suspended before Gen. Prayuth appeared on TV, with commanders from other armed forces, including police officials, by his side. The military ordered all radio and television stations to broadcast content from the military only.
“The military has to return peace and order to the country as soon as possible and to reform [the] political and social structure to ensure fairness for every side,” he said. “I ask the people to remain calm and carry on with their business as usual.”
The government of acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan couldn’t be reached for comment. The military summoned Mr. Niwattumrong and his cabinet ministers to report immediately to an army base
“It remains to be seen how the coup will transpire from now. Based on history, the army is likely to set up a national government,” Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political science lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said earlier Thursday.
After the army’s announcement, local media reported that troops took control of the primary rally site of the pro-government Red Shirt group on the outskirts of Bangkok and ordered supporters to go home.
Gen. Prayuth urged civil servants to follow rules and regulations, but banned the mobilizing of weapons and security personnel.
Foreign residents, diplomats and workers of international organizations will be guaranteed safety, the general said. Thailand’s relations with other countries and international organizations remain as-is, based on the protocol the previous government set up, he added.
—Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol contributed to this article.
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Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — The Thai military has taken control of the government in a coup, the country’s military chief announced in a national address Thursday.
Military officials also imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time (11 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET), authorities said in a televised address.
The developments are the latest in a chain of failed attempts to defuse tensions that have simmered since November. The discord has its roots in politics, and led to both pro- and anti-government factions to fight over the country’s leadership.
Three days ago, the military imposed martial law in an attempt to end the instability, but said it was not a coup. Now, it has taken power outright.
The move came after rival factions were unable to come up with a suitable agreement to govern, the military chief said.
Hours earlier, members of the military and opposition parties met for a second day to try to find a solution to the crisis in Thailand.
Members of the political parties involved in the talks were seen being escorted by the military after the meeting.
In his address, the military chief told citizens that despite the coup, it should be business as usual for the public. All civil servants and officials should report to work, he said, and anyone who has weapons — such as police — should not make any attempt to move those weapons without orders.
The military also said it will provide security to foreigners, including vacationers and diplomats.
The people of Thailand are all too familiar with coups. Thursday’s coup was at least the 19th actual or attempted military takeover since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
During the meetings this week, Thai election officials said the country’s caretaker Prime Minister and his Cabinet should resign and a new interim government should be named ahead of elections to be held in six to nine months.
But interim Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan said there’s no chance that the caretaker government will resign.
“This can’t be done because it is illegal,” a statement from Niwatthamrong’s office said. “To find (a) solution, (it) must be done accordingly to laws and under the constitution.”
Among those invited to the meetings were the chairman of the election commission, the acting senate house speaker, the leader of the governing Pheu Thai party, the leader of the opposition Democrat Party, the leader of the anti-government protesters and the leader of the pro-government “red shirts.”
Deep-seated tensions in Thailand in recent months have caused deadly clashes, paralyzed parts of the capital and brought down Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Sudden martial law
The military, which has a long history of interfering in Thai politics, stepped into the fray Tuesday with its sudden declaration of martial law — without giving any warning to the acting Prime Minister.
“They took this action unilaterally,” an aide to the Prime Minister told CNN, describing the situation earlier this week as “half a coup d’etat.”
Human rights activists warned that the imposition of martial law is a major step away from democracy and lacks safeguards. Human Rights Watch said it “threatens the human rights of all Thais.”
The law includes restrictions on where protesters can gather, what TV and radio broadcasters can air and social media posts.
The interim Prime Minister said he is glad the army chief is trying to find an end to the crisis.
The government wants a solution “under democratic means,” his statement said, “including to find the new elected government the soonest to solve the problems for the people of Thailand.”
How the chaos unfolded
Thailand has been hit by bouts of political unrest over the past decade.
The current wave was triggered in November by Yingluck’s botched attempt to pass an amnesty bill that would have allowed the return of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, another former prime minister who lives in exile. Thaksin was deposed by a military coup in 2006.
Groups opposed to the government seized on the amnesty bill furor and began large-scale protests in central areas of Bangkok.
In an attempt to defuse tensions, Yingluck called an early election. But the Democrat Party boycotted the February election, and Yingluck’s opponents blocked voting in enough districts to prevent a valid outcome.
The leaders of the anti-government protesters say elections — which the Shinawatra family’s populist Pheu Thai party is likely to win — aren’t the way to resolve the crisis. They say they want the establishment of an unelected “people’s council” that would oversee political changes.
Yingluck, who first took office in 2011, stayed on after the disrupted election as a caretaker Prime Minister. But the Constitutional Court forced her from office two weeks ago, finding her guilty of violating the constitution over the appointments of top security officials.
Yingluck has denied breaking the law.
CNN’s Paula Hancocks and Kocha Olarn reported from Bangkok, with Jethro Mullen reporting and writing in Hong Kong and Holly Yan and Catherine E. Shoichet in Atlanta. CNN’s Simon Harrison in Bangkok also contributed to this report.