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THAILAND COUP: Bangkok tense as military detains political leaders

Publication Date : 24-05-2014


Yingluck among those detained; army chief declares himself prime minister; over 300 protest against junta


After staging a lightning coup, Thai army chief Prayuth Chan- ocha declared himself acting prime minister, summoning former Cabinet members and civil servants and then barring more than 100 politically linked individuals from leaving the country.

Former prime minister Ying- luck Shinawatra was among those detained by the junta after she reported to an army compound yesterday. Other Cabinet members who turned up included former acting caretaker premier Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, as well as former foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul.

General Prayuth told Bangkok- based diplomats in a briefing that individuals were being detained so that they could "think about what they have done wrong", according to a participant.

An army spokesman later confirmed this with The Straits Times, stressing that they had been given "VIP facilities" and that the detention would not last for more than one week.

Yesterday, about 300 people with banners and signs reading "Junta out" gathered in downtown Bangkok, sparking a tense stand-off with troops.

However, Thai elections, which were sabotaged by anti- government protesters on February 2 and later annulled, look unlikely to be held soon after Gen Prayuth told diplomats that he wanted to concentrate on bringing "harmony" back to Thailand.

In a separate meeting with civil servants, he stressed that he wanted economic, social and political reforms implemented before fresh elections are held.

"If the situation is peaceful, we are ready to return power to the people," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Asean's second-largest economy has been in political turmoil since last November, when protesters first took to the streets to oust the government of then premier Yingluck. She was eventually expelled by the Constitutional Court on May 7 over an illegal transfer of a senior official, but not before the protesters had invaded government buildings and occupied key intersections of Bangkok to force her to resign.

Before the military seized power on Thursday, Niwatthamrong similarly refused to step down until elections were held and a new prime minister named.

Protesters blocking new elections, which the Puea Thai party was certain to win, had demanded that reforms be implemented first and also wanted the caretaker Cabinet to make way for an appointed administration instead.

As the stalemate dragged on, the threat of violent clashes between the opposing groups grew, and the economy sank 2.1 per cent from January to March.

Gen Prayuth, who had stood on the sidelines until this week, declared martial law on Tuesday, before staging a full coup on Thursday after military-brokered talks between the contending factions failed to achieve any outcome.

He also detained key members from both sides of the divide.

International condemnation has been swift. The last military coup in 2006 that ousted then premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms Yingluck's brother, led to often violent unrest that roiled the kingdom over the next four years.

But Thais are familiar with putsches of this nature. The army has staged 12 such coups d'etat since 1932.

In northern Thailand, soldiers detained 11 leaders of the "red shirt" movement, which forms the core of Puea Thai supporters.

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