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American travelers considering “non-essential” trips to Thailand should cancel their plans following Thursday’s military coup and ongoing unrest in the country, the U.S. State Department advised on Friday.
U.S. citizens who are currently in Thailand, and especially Bangkok, were warned by the State Department to stay alert and avoid protest sites and areas where demonstrations are held.
“Although many protest activities have been peaceful, violent incidents involving guns and explosive devices have occurred at or near protest sites,” a statement from the State Department said. “Some have resulted in injury or death.”
On Thursday, the Royal Thai Army seized control of the county’s government following six months of protests against the ruling Pheu Thai party. The army also imposed a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m., banned political gatherings and limited media outlets’ reporting.
Bangkok is a major tourist hub, but the coup and violence will likely ward off visitors. The State Department said its travel alert stands “until further notice.”
Travelers already within the country do not need to adhere to the Army’s curfew if they are going to the airport, but may need to provide proof of identity to authorities in the form of passports and tickets, the State Department alert said.
— Elisha Fieldstadt and Catherine Chomiak
The declaration came a day after Thailand’s caretaker prime minister said he would not resign, amidst ongoing political protests.
“You are advised to avoid areas where there are protest events, large gatherings, or security operations and follow the instructions of Thai authorities,” according to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok’s statement.
“U.S. citizens are cautioned that even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”
The embassy also encouraged Americans in Thailand to register with the embassy, either online or through consulate services.
The warning follows a travel alert issued by the embassy May 16. The alert did not advise against nonessential travel, but it did cite risks, especially in Bangkok, “due to ongoing political and social unrest.”
Thai army officials told reporters Tuesday that the declaration of martial law was a not a coup, an action taken repeatedly by the military since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
In Washington, State Department officials expressed concern over the martial decree.
“We expect the army to honor its commitment to make this a temporary action to prevent violence, and to not undermine democratic institutions,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday.
The last coup came in 2006, when the military forced out Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin had popular support, especially in the countryside, but also faced a strong opposition movement and accusations of corruption.
On May 7, Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, was forced out as prime minister after a court found her guilty of abuses of power.
The U.S. military maintains a close relationship with Thai military officials. Each year, Thai officials host the multinational Cobra Gold exercise, which welcomes thousands of U.S. servicemembers.
On May 12, senior Navy leaders hosted Royal Thai Navy officials aboard the Japan-based USS Blue Ridge. A Navy news release cited Thailand as “America’s oldest ally in Asia,” tracing relations back to a treaty signed between the U.S. and the Kingdom of Siam in 1833.