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Asia PhOtOs- Thailand Military Coup- Bangkok Erupts

Thai Coup Leaders Summon Influential Family

By AP, 23 May 2014


BANGKOK (AP) Thailand's ruling military on Friday summoned the entire ousted government and members of the politically influential family at the heart of the country's long-running conflict, a day after it seized control of this volatile Southeast Asian nation in a non-violent coup.

There was virtually no military presence on Bangkok's streets, which were less crowded than usual but still filled with vendors and people heading to work after a 10 p.m. - 5 a.m. curfew the night before. There were no reports of overnight violence.
Countries including the United States, Japan and Australia expressed concern and disappointment over the coup, with the U.S. saying there was "no justification" for the takeover, Thailand's second in eight years.




Thai police commando stand guard outside the Army Club before Thai former
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arrives to report to Thailand's ruling military in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014.

The military on Friday summoned the entire ousted government and members of the politically influential family at the heart of the country's long-running conflict, a day after it seized control of this volatile Southeast Asian nation in a non-violent coup. It was unclear why more than 100 people, including the ousted prime minister and several members of the influential Shinawatra family, were ordered to report to the military, which said it was summoning the high-profile figures "to keep peace and order and solve the country's problems." (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)


It was unclear why more than 100 people including the ousted prime minister and several members of the influential Shinawatra family were ordered to report to the army, which said it was summoning the high-profile figures "to keep peace and order and solve the country's problems."

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, sacked earlier this month for nepotism by the Constitutional Court, and her temporary replacement Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, arrived at an army compound in Bangkok, Yingluck's aide confirmed. After about 30 minutes, Yingluck left the facility and was taken to another army location by soldiers, the aide said. It was unclear how long she would remain there.

The coup was launched Thursday while the military hosted a meeting of political rivals for what was billed as a second round of talks on how to resolve the country's political deadlock. After two hours of inconclusive talks, armed soldiers detained the participants, including four Cabinet ministers, and army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha appeared on national television to announce the takeover.
Prayuth justified the coup as a necessary move to restore stability and "quickly bring the situation back to normal" amid increasing spasms of violence that together with controversial court rulings had rendered the government powerless and the country profoundly divided between the wealthy urban elite who disdain the Shinawatra family and their supporters among the rural poor majority.

The military suspended the constitution and the Cabinet and banned gatherings of more than five people a risky bid to end half a year of political upheaval that many fear will only deepen the nation's crisis.
"We're likely to see dark days ahead," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, referring to the possibility of violent resistance from the ousted government's supporters.

So far, there was little sign of military control on the streets of Bangkok. Traffic was lighter than usual and schools across the country were ordered closed, but life in the bustling metropolis of 10 million people appeared relatively normal. Like any other morning, street vendors set up their food stalls, commuters headed to work and delivery trucks made their rounds.
"At first I was surprised and I thought it would affect my life in many ways but after re-thinking it several times I realize military protection makes me safe," said Bangkok resident Passawara Pinyo.
"I expected it to happen anyway," said office worker Montri Chanthasuthi, "it was just a matter of when."

The main indication of military presence was on television, where regular programming was replaced by a static screen showing military crests and the junta's self-declared name: National Peace and Order Maintaining Council. Patriotic music filled air time, interrupted by occasional announcements from military officials.

Thursday's dramatic events were the latest response to a societal schism laid bare after the 2006 coup deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the older brother of Yingluck and a billionaire tycoon whose populist movement has won every national election since 2001. Thaksin lives in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges, but he still wields enormous influence over Thailand's political affairs and remains at the heart of the ongoing crisis.

It is a divide that has led to upheaval multiple times in recent years. The latest crisis alone has left 28 people dead and more than 800 wounded since November.

The army, which imposed martial law in a surprise move Tuesday that many sensed was a prelude to taking full power, imposed a nationwide curfew Thursday that began at 10 p.m. a clear sign it was concerned about potential unrest.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the takeover and warned it would "have negative implications for the U.S.-Thai relationship," but did not announce immediate punitive steps. The State Department said it was reviewing millions of dollars in aid.
"There is no justification for this military coup," Kerry said in a statement that also called for the release of detained political leaders and a return of press freedom.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country was "gravely concerned" about the situation in Thailand. She called the coup a "regrettable development" that is prompting her government to review its relationship with the Southeast Asian nation, a major destination for Australian tourists.

Japan called the coup "deeply regrettable" and urged that democracy be quickly restored.

-Associated Press writers Todd Pitman, Grant Peck and Ian Mader in Bangkok, and Lolita Baldor and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.




Thai former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in a van, arrives to report to Thailand's ruling military in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014.





An anti-government demonstrator carries his belongings as he leaves a demonstration
site past Buddhist monks in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014, a day after soldiers staged a coup.



Thailand's ruling military made its first order of the day summoning members of the politically influential family to a meeting Friday morning, a day after it seized control of this volatile Southeast Asian nation in a bloodless coup. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)




Thai soldiers patrol near the Army Club before former Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra arrives to report to Thailand's ruling military in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014.





Thai soldiers stand guard near Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014, a day after their coup.

(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)




Workers clean up a road near Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014, a day after soldiers staged a coup.





A Thai soldier and military policemen try to block media as former Prime Minister
Yingluck Shinawatra arrives to report to Thailand's ruling military in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014.





Workers clean up a road near Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014, a day after soldiers staged a coup. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit





Thai soldiers stand guard near Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014





Anti-government demonstrators with their belongings leave a demonstration site past Buddhist monks in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014





Thai soldiers stand guard in front of Marble Temple in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 23, 2014 after Thai military staged a coup.


Thailand's new military junta has announced that it has suspended the country's constitution. Without firing a shot, Thailand's powerful military seized control of this volatile Southeast Asian nation Thursday, suspending the constitution and detaining Cabinet ministers in a risky bid to end half a year of political upheaval that many fear will only deepen the nation's crisis. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)



RELATED:

Can Thailand be Saved by a Coup d'etat?

Thailand's military seizes power after failure by politicos to resolve months of paralysing protests.


Robert Kennedy, Al Jazeera , 23 May 2014 12:00




Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha [second from right] announced a coup after his efforts to reconcile rival political factions failed [EPA]


Bangkok, Thailand - Martial law continued to rule Thailand on Friday after the military chief seized power saying warring political factions had failed to resolve months of turmoil that has paralysed this southeast Asian nation.

Politicians on both sides of the political divide were rounded up Thursday and summoned to appear by the army on Friday as the country entered its fourth day under military rule.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law on national television at 3am on Tuesday, saying it was necessary to prevent an escalation of violence as thousands of government supporters from the north and northeast converged on the capital, Bangkok. The pro-government "Red Shirts" had mobilised as they've done in the past following the dismissal of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yingluck - sister of divisive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a bloodless 2006 coup d'etat - was sacked earlier this month in a controversial ruling by the Constitutional Court. Her opponents say Yingluck was a proxy for Thaksin, alleging the billionaire telecoms tycoon continued to call the shots from exile in Dubai. Yingluck turned herself in to the army on Friday.

The constitution was suspended and television and radio stations were taken off air on Thursday after the Prayuth and other senior military figures appeared on national television announcing their seizure of power. An indefinite 10pm-5am curfew was also imposed.

Anti-government protesters upset with the Shinawatra family and their leadership began street demonstrations last November demanding the government's ouster and political reform towards the rule of an unelected "people's council". Sporadic violence erupted soon after, killing at least 28 people and wounding hundreds of others.

Thaksin and his allies have won every election since 2000, garnering a majority of support from rural Thais who benefited from his populist policies such as subsidies for rice and cheap healthcare. The elite and middle class based in Bangkok and some southern areas regard the Red Shirts with disdain, saying their leaders are guilty of vote-buying, and that the democratic system needs to be overhauled to resolve the ongoing political turbulence.

Professor Paul Chambers, from Chiang Mai University's Institute of South East Asian Affairs, said the coup was likely ordered by the Privy Council - a powerful group of advisers to Thailand's highly influential monarchy. While the army and others have said the military takeover was necessary to stabilise the country, Chambers balked at the suggestion.

"I definitely do not agree with that. I think that's a rationalisation to justify the arch-royalists' power grab," he told Al Jazeera. "Destroying democracy and a government elected to office by a majority of Thais is never a good thing ... There are also a lot of people here who feel the same way and are angry about what's happened."

Slow-burn coup

General Prayuth used the 100-year-old Martial Law Act to deploy soldiers to the hot-spot areas of Bangkok on Tuesday - a move denounced by human rights groups as a de facto coup d'etat. The military vehemently denied a putsch had taken place, saying martial law was necessary to keep the peace after Yingluck's ouster and the growing mobilisation of those who voted for her.





Thai army seizes power in coup


On Wednesday, representatives from all sides of the political divide were ordered to an unprecedented meeting by Prayuth to hammer out an agreement to move the country forward. It was the first time that all parties had sat down face-to-face, but it ended without a breakthrough. Prayuth ordered the representatives to do their "homework" of outlining what they'd would be willing to concede, and to return Thursday to get a deal done.

Those talks lasted about two hours before leaders - including Suthep Taugsuban, head of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) that has spearheaded paralysing demonstrations - were hustled out of the Army Club into waiting vans. Their whereabouts remain unclear.

The military immediately converged on and cleared the Red Shirts' protest camp about 25km outside of Bangkok, and the PDRC's main base at Democracy Monument. On Friday, about 100 soldiers toting M-16 rifles confiscated weapons from the PDRC site as they evicted the last remnants of the remaining demonstrators. Tents that had been there for months were hurriedly brought down and packed in trucks under the watchful eyes of Thai troops.

Despite the military's presence in some sections of the mega-city of 10 million people, on the main Sukhumvit Road life marched on as usual. Vehicles were gridlocked on the narrow, garbage-lined streets, and the BTS "skytrain" was jam-packed with travelers seemingly oblivious to the military takeover.

Military intervention is nothing new to Thailand, now with 12 successful coups and seven failed attempts since 1932.


Will the Red Shirts respond?

Thailand hasn't had a functioning government since December, when Yingluck dissolved parliament and called an election in a failed attempt to appease her opponents. Her Pheu Thai party won the vote in February, but with the main opposition Democrat Party boycotting the ballot and many voting stations blocked by anti-government supporters, the Constitutional Court later nullified the election.

Quote:
Some Red Shirt leaders will try to fight, but the army now has the upper hand.
- Paul Chambers, Chiang Mai University

It remains to be seen what happens next. If an unelected government that is PDRC-friendly is installed, the Red Shirts and their United Front Against Dictatorship (UDD) have vowed to converge on the capital, as they did in 2010 when tens-of-thousands took over Bangkok's business district for months, before a military crackdown dispersed them - killing about 90 people in the process.

"There is an effort to break the will of the UDD and government so that something more along with what PDRC wants can be brought in," David Streckfuss, a political analyst based in the Red Shirt heartland of Khon Kaen, told Al Jazeera. "If a PDRC-friendly government is installed ... then the Red Shirts will respond sharply."

Chambers, however, said unlike 2010, the Red Shirts' protest power has been diminished - for now at least.

"Some Red Shirt leaders will try to fight, but the army now has the upper hand in this. In the short term, their position is weak, but in the long term - as people get angrier and angrier - the coup will galvanize their support. In the end, this will help Thaksin and his proxies, this just plays into his needs to build his political base," Chambers said.
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