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Thai Military Detains Ex-Cabinet Minister


Thailand's ruling military has detained a minister in the ousted government, minutes after he denounced last week's coup as illegitimate.

Soldiers burst into the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Thailand Tuesday and took former education minister Chaturon Chaisang, who had just given a talk.

Chaturon had defied the junta’s order to surrender under martial law.

Speaking to journalists minutes before he was taken away, Chaturon insisted it was legitimate for anyone to peacefully demonstrate or speak out against the coup - acts also deemed illegal by those now in control.

"Coup d'etat is not a solution to the problems or conflicts in Thai society but will make the conflicts even worse," he said.."It is also a great concern that if those with authority cannot handle the problems well, it may lead to violence and greater losses."

The army seized power Thursday, saying the move was necessary to end violence, restore public order and carry out political reform.

Chaturon, an ally of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup, disputed that the military intends to carry out true political reform.

Rather, he said, it intends to put a system into place ensuring only those favored by the elite, the military and the royalists will be able to govern the kingdom.

Army Col. Werachon Sukondhapatipak, a spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order, was asked during a VOA interview shortly after Chaturon’s remark whether the junta believes the billionaire former prime minister’s influence is the root cause of Thailand’s troubles.

“That is the main reason that caused the fundamental problem of Thailand,” he said.

The coup leader, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, is now running not only the country’s military, but all the instruments of government.

Werachon said the military does not have a timetable for return to civilian rule and elections.

“If suppose we had a magic medicine to fix all the problems in Thailand within one week we would be more than happy to restore peace and order, the same system back to Thailand within one week," he said. "It depends on all the conflict parties, if they cooperate, if they agree that ‘OK, let’s take a break.”

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister who was brought to power after her party won a majority of the legislative seats in the 2011 election, was forced to resign May 7 as caretaker prime minister when a court ruled she and nine members of her cabinet had abused their power.

Her successor as interim prime minister, Niwattamrong Boonsongpaisan, lost his job in last Thursday's coup.

The director of City University of Hong Kong’s Southeast Asia Research Center, Mark Thompson, said Thailand’s army clearly has an agenda.

"Each time the military has shown it clearly sides with the so-called 'Yellow Shirts,' the traditional elites who oppose Thaksin, who are based in big business, the bureaucracy, the courts and have support in the monarchy,” he said.

Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile for years because he has faced prison for a corruption conviction should he return home.

Still, he remains Thailand’s most influential and polarizing political figure. He or his allies have won every national election since 2001, supported by the rural poor.

The military has carried out 19 coups or attempted overthrows of civilian governments since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

Thailand’s 86-year-old King has been ailing for years but remains a deeply revered figure.

A royal command was issued in his name Monday to General Prayuth to run the governing military-led counsel.

The coup has drawn international criticism. The U.S. Defense Department says it is canceling U.S. military exercises with Thailand and planned visits by U.S. and Thai military officials.

Thailand's army has staged 12 coups in the last 80 years.

VOA's Ron Corben and Gabrielle Paluch contributed to this report.

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