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Thai army declares martial law

By Associated Press in Bangkok | China Daily | Updated: 2014-05-21 07:10

Military denies coup, says move to prevent street clashes between rivals

Thailand's powerful army declared martial law before dawn on Tuesday, deploying troops into the heart of Bangkok in a dramatic move it said was aimed at stabilizing the Southeast Asian country after six months of turbulent political unrest. The military, however, insisted a coup was not underway.

The surprise operation, which places the army in charge of public security nationwide, came amid deepening uncertainty over the nation's fate, just one day after the caretaker prime minister refused to step down in the face of long-running anti-government protests.

 Thai army declares martial law

Thai soldiers use sand bags to fortify their position in the middle of a main intersection in Bangkok's shopping district on Tuesday. Damir Sagolj / Reuters

Although soldiers entered multiple television stations to broadcast the army message, life in the vast skyscraper-strewn metropolis of 10 million people remained largely unaffected, with schools, businesses and tourist sites open and traffic flowing as usual.

On a major road in front of one of the country's most luxurious shopping malls, bystanders gawked at soldiers in jeeps mounted with machine guns who briefly diverted traffic.

History of coups

Acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan called an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the situation at an undisclosed location.

Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri told The Associated Press the army had not consulted Niwattumrong beforehand, but he played down the move and said the caretaker government was still running the country even though the army was now in charge of security.

Thailand has been gripped by off-and-on political turmoil since 2006, when then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The army, which is seen by many as sympathetic to anti-government protesters, has staged 11 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

The military statement was issued on Tuesday by army chief General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who cited a 1914 law that gives the authority to intervene during times of crisis. He said the military took action to avert street clashes between political rivals that he feared "could impact the country's security".

"The Royal Thai Army intends to bring back peace and order to the beloved country of every Thai as soon as possible," he said. We "intend to see the situation resolved quickly."

The latest round of unrest started last November, when anti-government protesters took to the streets to try to oust then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister. She dissolved the lower house of Parliament in December in a bid to ease the crisis, and has led a weakened, caretaker government with limited powers since then.

Earlier this month, the Constitutional Court ousted Yingluck and nine Cabinet ministers for abuse of power, but the move has done little to resolve the political conflict that pits the rural poor majority who support Yingluck and her opponents who largely come from the urban middle and upper classes.

Competing protests in Bangkok have raised concerns of more violence, which were heightened by anti-government protesters who set a Monday deadline for achieving their goals of ousting the remnants of the government.

An overnight attack last week on the main anti-government protest site left 3 dead and more than 20 injured. It raised the toll since November to 28 dead and drew a strong televised rebuke from the army chief.

(China Daily 05/21/2014 page12)

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