News / Asia

Thai Army Stages Coup, Suspends Constitution

Thai Military Takes Control of Countryi
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Steve Herman
May 22, 2014 5:24 PM
Thailand’s military officially took control of the country on Thursday, two days after the army chief imposed martial law. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
The United States has voiced disappointment with the military takeover of Thailand's government, saying there is "no justification" for the coup.

In a statement Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern about reports that senior Thai political leaders have been detained by the military. He called for their immediate release and "a return to democracy."

Kerry also warned the takeover will have "negative implications" for U.S. relations with the Thai military.

U.S. officials earlier announced a review of all military assistance to Bangkok, including ongoing joint maneuvers involving hundreds of U.S. Marines and sailors.

The Thai coup statement followed a second day of crisis talks between supporters of exiled ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and opponents backed by the country's traditional elites. Witnesses say Thaksin supporters were taken away by soldiers after the talks failed to achieve a compromise with the opposition.
 
FILE: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Thailand to restore democracyFILE: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Thailand to restore democracy
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FILE: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Thailand to restore democracy
FILE: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Thailand to restore democracy
Six months of paralyzing protests in Bangkok have centered on whether to hold elections to end the political stalemate. Nearly 30 people have been killed in the unrest.

In a push to end the standoff, the governing party led by Thaksin's sister, Yingluck, in December dissolved the elected House of Representatives and set an election for February. However, opposition Democrats, who have not won a national election since 1992, countered by disrupting that vote and refusing to participate.

Kerry spoke in Washington, hours after Thailand's army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, announced the coup in a televised statemen late Thursday afternoon, two days after declaring martial law. Flanked by heads of the armed forces, he appeared on all major television stations and declared the military and police are now running the kingdom's government.

The general said the move suspending the constitution was aimed at restoring order and pushing through political reform. He also ordered the country's acting prime minister and cabinet to report to the army.
 
Prayuth said it is necessary for the military and police to “take control of governing the country.” He said the army will restore order and push through political reform.
 
Major Political Developments in Thailand:

2006:
Army overthrows Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

2007: The pro-Thaksin People Power Party wins elections

2008: Anti-Thaksin protesters, known as Yellow Shirts, stage months of demonstrations and briefly paralyze airports. Abhisit Vejjajiva becomes prime minister.

2010: Massive pro-Thaksin "red shirt" protests are held in Bangkok, dozens are killed

2011: Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin, elected prime minister 2013: Anti-government protesters hold massive demonstrations, Yingluck calls new elections

2014: Protesters camp in Bangkok, Yingluck government is removed, army declares martial law then seizes power in a May coup
The military said the country’s new ruling body, the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NOMC), is headed by Prayuth.

Within hours of the coup announcement, the military had detained officials in the caretaker government as well as rival political factions, banned gatherings of more than five people, instituted a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and suspended the constitution -- except for the section related to the monarchy.

The military later ordered remaining members of the caretaker cabinet, including acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, to turn themselves in to the main army office in Bangkok.

Niwattumrong was not among those attending the talks and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

Rival political parties

The coup statement followed a second day of crisis talks between rival political parties. Witnesses said the participants in the talks were taken away by soldiers after the talks failed to achieve a compromise between the opposition and supporters of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Following the announcement, soldiers moved in to clear the two main protest sites where both pro- and anti-government demonstrators have held rallies in recent days. They dispersed crowds and detained several leaders.

Thailand's army also told all television and radio stations in the country to halt normal programs on Thursday and only broadcast army material, according to Reuters.
 
“All radio and television stations, satellite and cable, must stop normal programming and broadcast army content until told otherwise,” Winthai Suvaree, a deputy army spokesman, said in a televised statement.
 
General Prayuth Chan-Ocha
 
  • 60 years old, became army commander-in-chief in October, 2010
  • Scheduled to retire in September, 2014
  • Known for his loyalty to the monarchy, Queen Sirikit, in particular
  • Served in the Queen’s Guard, a military branch very influential in Thai politics
  • Played key role in the 2006 coup that toppled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra
  •  Announced the current military takeover on television

Foreign broadcasters and Internet service appeared unaffected.

The pro-government Red Shirts, encamped just to the west of the capital, remained defiant despite the military announcement.

A Twitter message from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) warned to “stand by for retaliation.”

Earlier Thursday, representatives of the embattled caretaker government, the two major rival political parties and the election commissioner had met at the Army Club. They had been sent home after the first day with “homework,” according to the military, and told to return with proposals to end the country’s protracted political impasse.
 
After the group failed to reach an agreement, political leaders were taken into custody. Minutes later, Prayuth appeared on television to announce the military takeover.
 
  • Soldiers take up position at the Democracy monument after the coup was declared in Bangkok, May 22, 2014.
  • Anti-government protesters waiting at the Royal Plaza for transportation home stand behind a soldier after the coup was declared in Bangkok, May 22, 2014.
  • Anti-government protesters get ready to leave their main encampment after the coup was declared in Bangkok, May 22, 2014.
  • Thai journalists and foreign press watch the TV broadcast announcement of the coup by the Thai Armed Forces chiefs, at the press center of the Army Club, in Bangkok, May 22, 2014.
  • Anti-government protesters raise their fists as they sing the national anthem, in Bangkok, May 22, 2014.
  • Thai soldiers block a motorcade of an attendant at the Army Club shortly after the army staged a coup, May 22, 2014, in Bangkok, Thailand.
  • An armed soldier takes a position behind a military vehicle in the compound of the Army Club shortly after the military staged a coup, in Bangkok, May 22, 2014.
  • Thai soldiers guard an area where anti-government protesters come to rally, in Bangkok, May 22, 2014.
  • Barefoot Buddhist monks walk past a checkpoint near a pro-government "red shirt" supporter encampment in Nakhon Pathom province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, May 22, 2014.

Deadly protests

Anti-government demonstrators have rallied in Bangkok for six months. During that time, at least 28 people have died and more than 700 have been injured in violence connected to political protests.
 
The roots of the political standoff go back years.

On one side, royalists and allied groups sought to rid the country of the influence of billionaire Thaksin, whose parties and candidates have won every election since 2001.
 
Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup that sparked a major power struggle. He now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a prison sentence for a corruption conviction. He and his supporters call the charges political motivated.

Thailand's army, which has been traditionally on the side of the opposition, has staged 11 coups in the last 80 years.

"Thailand is extremely polarized. The military is not neutral. It does favor the monarchy and this now could lead to resistance to military rule. It's like a déjà vu all over again 2006," said Carl Thayer, a professor of politics from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

The military coup in 2006 led to changes in the country’s constitution that were intended to set up a more stable political system.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Stephen from: USA
May 22, 2014 10:22 PM
One Night In Bangkok, remember Murray Head's hit three decades ago?1

by: GenPatton from: Fort Brag
May 22, 2014 1:47 PM
Coming soon, to a liberal state near you!

by: Yuanyuan from: China
May 22, 2014 11:50 AM
civilians are the worst victims.

by: ชูชัย from: สงขลา
May 22, 2014 10:32 AM
Its the conspiracy plan.The antigov.rally group The military ,court and the social elite group are those who rob the country with this plan while ignore the voice of the lower class.

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