News / Asia

    Thai Coup Leaders Tighten Grip

    A woman tries to help as an anti-coup protester is detained by a Thai police officer during a street protest in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 24, 2014.
    A woman tries to help as an anti-coup protester is detained by a Thai police officer during a street protest in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 24, 2014.
    The U.S. military has canceled training and readiness exercises with Thailand, as well as a visit to the Asian nation by U.S. Pacific Fleet commander originally scheduled for June, the Pentagon said Saturday.

    "As we have made clear, it is important that the Royal Thai Armed Forces end this coup and restore to the people of Thailand both the principles and the process of democratic rule, including a clear path forward to elections," Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

     
    Thai soldiers guard during a protest against the coup in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.Thai soldiers guard during a protest against the coup in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.
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    Thai soldiers guard during a protest against the coup in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.
    Thai soldiers guard during a protest against the coup in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.
    Thailand’s army chief, who has named himself prime minister, has now also assumed all legislative power. His junta on Saturday dissolved the kingdom’s partly-elected Senate. Meanwhile, several hundred citizens took to the streets Saturday to voice their opposition to Thursday’s coup, an act of civil disobedience banned by the military’s governing council.

    In a loosely organized demonstration, hundreds circled the capital’s Victory Monument, chanting “soldiers get out” and “no coup.”

    Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup Thursday, declared himself acting prime minister Friday and dissolved the Senate on Saturday, has assumed all lawmaking powers. He said the moves are necessary to restore public order and push through political reforms.

    Many of those voicing opposition to Prayuth's actions claim no alliance with Thailand’s color-coded protesters, who have polarized Thai politics for years. Soldiers forced those protesters from their camps in the hours after the coup.
     
    Thai anti-coup protesters hold up banners during a protest outside a shopping complex in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.Thai anti-coup protesters hold up banners during a protest outside a shopping complex in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.
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    Thai anti-coup protesters hold up banners during a protest outside a shopping complex in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.
    Thai anti-coup protesters hold up banners during a protest outside a shopping complex in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.
    The new anti-coup demonstrators managed to foil soldiers who blocked them from marching to the monument Saturday afternoon. When troops cut off a major avenue on the march route, there were brief scuffles. But protesters hopped on the Bangkok “Skytrain” to circumvent the roadblock.

    Among those on the streets were Poongsa Poongchan, who said he spontaneously decided to join the march.

    “I just came to the bank and I found many people. After that, I joined,” he said.

    Independent researcher Art Werapong, at the rally at the monument, said he decided to participate even if it meant defying the military junta’s decree prohibiting public gatherings of more than five people.

    “I’m scared for my life coming here. I’ve got a family, I’m educated. I can have a normal, comfortable life," he said. "But I’m scared for the people in the younger generation who may not live the same way.”
     
    Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra talks to media during a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, May 7, 2014.Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra talks to media during a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, May 7, 2014.
    x
    Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra talks to media during a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, May 7, 2014.
    Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra talks to media during a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, May 7, 2014.
    Among those observing the Victory Monument rally was Sean Boonpracong, a former national security adviser in the government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Yingluck, whose Peau Thai Party won a landslide victory in the last nation election in 2011, is being detained by the military. A spokesman said the military intends to keep her in custody for “no more than a week.”

    Sean told VOA he appreciated U.S. diplomats condemning Prayuth’s order to impose media censorship.   

    “Vicious rumors could go around and it could get a lot of people talking," he said. "It’s best that they allow more freedom of information to flow, just like (U.S.) Ambassador Kristie Kenney said, so people don’t have to go underground and be in the dark.”

    He termed the anti-coup rally Thailand’s “first Internet anti-coup protest,” as it was not organized by the pro-government Red Shirt movement, of which he was a leader.

    The military on Saturday told 35 more people to report to army facilities, going beyond the previous category of political figures and protest leaders. On the list were several intellectuals.

    Chulalongkorn University political science professor Panitan Wattanayagorn said the summons to writers and academics shows the military is engaging in a more systematic crackdown than it did following the last coup in 2006.

    “The military may ask for cooperation from them to do things, not to do things and maybe monitor their behavior," said Panitan. "Since they have full power under the martial law, if they don't comply then maybe harder measures could be applied to them.”

    With the senate newly dissolved, former lawmaker Dr. Jetn Sirathranont -- who had called on then-Prime Minister Yingluck to resign -- said the general's takeover came as no surprise. He gave it tacit endorsement.

    “If you have the Senate, we will have the many senators who don't agree with the coup detat.Someone may speak in the Senate against Gen. Prayuth," said Jetn. "That's not good. If they still prolong the Senate, it will make the job of Gen. Prayuth more difficult."

    The United States has suspended $3.5 million in military aid to Thailand, and says it is reviewing whether to cut another $7 million in assistance.

    The U.S. State Department also warned U.S. citizens against non-essential travel to the country.

    The Thai military already had banned Yingluck and more than 150 other political figures from leaving Thailand without permission.

    It is not clear if the other politicians in custody are being held in the same location. The country's caretaker prime minister, Niwattumrong Boosongpaisan, was among those summoned by military authorities. Until the bloodless coup, he had been in charge of the kingdom on an acting basis after a court ordered Yingluck to step down earlier this month on charges of nepotism.

    Thailand has been wracked by six months of political disputes and sometimes violent demonstrations. Crisis talks between rival political parties broke down early this past week. Nearly 30 people have been killed during anti-government protests.

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

    VOA's Ron Corben in Bangkok contributed to this report, and Jeff Seldin also contributed.

    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: parker from: hat yai
    May 27, 2014 4:14 AM
    The US should solve its own internal problems and not interfere with other countries. True democracy is decided by referendum.US does not have democracy but a collective dictatorship that sits on Capitol Hill. A lousy country full of very ignorant people when it comes to world affairs, governed by lobbyists, greed and dishonesty
    Parker

    by: Tony from: BKK, Thailand
    May 26, 2014 5:02 AM
    Most American are obsess with stupid idea on democracy , an election protray as a free country. If you don't know the root cause and never dig deep into the real crisis on what damage such fake democracy, vote buying and mega project corruption, did to this country then you shoul keep your opinion to yourself or shut up. By the way, US government's view on human right and democracy always base on double standard. You should take a closer look at Egypt, why US is reluctant to make a judgement while Thailand the US is respond so fast.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    May 25, 2014 12:51 AM
    The US, EU, and NATO countries hypocrisy at it's best? -- First they embraced the Ukrainian coup of the government, and now condemn and denounce the Thailand coup to save the deadlocked Thai government.... (CRAZY isn't it?) .. how the US, EU, and NATO countries views government coups, isn't it?

    by: Gung from: Bangkok
    May 24, 2014 3:06 PM
    Why US is so important? Few million bucks it gives and publicizes. But never publicizes the natural resources, production, and labor it uses of those nation! Let China take care of Thailand, why US puts its ass in every country?? They can't even handle their trillions of dollars of debt and unemployed people.
    In Response

    by: darunwat from: somewhere
    May 24, 2014 11:36 PM
    This' s a slave's speech that has no free will to be a human. Respect the military junta that control human right. R.I.P.

    by: Hampton from: USA
    May 24, 2014 3:01 PM
    Do you think we have another Burma coming? The new dictator to be should be wary of the economy if the tourists stop coming. Who wants to sit in your room at the Oriental watching tv because you have to be inside by 10 pm. That will get old fast.
    My theory of revolution is: Its the have nots wanting to have what the haves have. In other words they want their own Swiss accounts and their chance to raid the treasury.....The King could actually have the general arrested and fired since he is head of the armed forces.

    by: skeeteril from: Somewhere, Midwest
    May 24, 2014 2:39 PM
    I think that the US should just sit back, watch, and learn, that they do not know everything about running a country.

    Maybe they are afraid that 'we the people' will want to detain them for their lack of action in governing America.

    by: Maria from: Seattle
    May 24, 2014 2:22 PM
    The Thai people should blame themselves for all the problems they have. They are never satisfied with the leaders they elect. They are very impatient. They should learn to allow their leaders to work out a solution but the trouble has always been their impatience. Solutions to their problems take time to work and success does not happen overnight. Violence is always their call to action. Nineteen coups and counting. It is sad that Thailand will remain the same. They also need need to do something about sex tourism industry. It is tough to be a Thai and living abroad and repeatedly asked, "Isn't the Thai government feel bad that Thailand is known to allow young girls into prostitution? Don't they understand there are other ways to make a living?"
    In Response

    by: Paul from: BKK
    May 25, 2014 3:33 PM
    Thais, impatient? Are you for real? Thai people are surely amongst the most tolerant and patient people in the entire world.
    In Response

    by: Dan from: California
    May 25, 2014 12:00 PM
    You don't know what you are talking about? You are ignorant about the real issues of Thailand and the huge corruption of Shinawatra's mafia family. This problem is so deep that cannot be solved by an election that was cheated by corrupt officials of that mafia family. Be mindful. Because you don't want anybody outside your family come and tell you how to run your family, how to dress, how to spend your money because he/she doesn't know a shit about the real issue of your family. This is the same case. Mind your own business because you don't know a shit about Thailand's problems. Don't judge Thai people because you are stupid in their eyes too.

    by: zd from: Bangkok
    May 24, 2014 6:56 AM
    That there are people opposing the military is not surprising, no one ever can make every one happy. Instead of immediately to go back on tge streets it would be better to let the dust settle and wait for some more details. As it appears all the detained are in two places and are not seperated by groups; however are mixed. Like a parent grounding kids that cannot behave and giving them a time out to consider their actions the military is giving the involved politicians and scolars are given the opportunity to come up with workable and reasonable solutions. Everyone inclyding other counties shoukd rather sit back and send observers to assist and help finding a solution. No one is helping by criticism in the contrary.

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