Thailand’s army head seized power in a military coup yesterday, deposing the elected government and plunging the country into uncertainty after months of deadly political strife.
Royal Thai Army Commander-in-Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha made the announcement in a televised address to the nation, saying the armed forces had to act to restore stability in the deeply divided Southeast Asian nation.
“In order for the country to return to normal quickly, the National Peace Keeping Committee comprised of the army, the Thai armed forces, the Royal Air Force and the police need to seize power as of May 22 at 4:30pm,” Prayuth said.
He said power would be held by the committee, which he will lead.
Moments before the stunning announcement, witnesses said they saw leaders of Thailand’s two main political parties as well as its rival protest movements being taken by the military from a venue where Prayuth had convened talks aimed at resolving their differences.
However, it was unclear if they had been formally detained.
The tough-talking Prayuth, 60, said he seized power due to “the violence in Bangkok and many parts of the country that resulted in loss of innocent lives and property, and was likely to escalate.”
“All Thais must remain calm and government officials must work as normal,” he said in the brief announcement at about 5pm, flanked by four of his top officers.
All national broadcasting was suspended and replaced with the commission’s announcements and broadcasts of patriotic music. The first announcement was a nationwide curfew from 10pm to 5am.
There was no immediate sign of soldiers patrolling central Bangkok, but troops were deployed to two areas of the capital where competing groups of protesters had gathered, raising fears of street clashes.
The military later ordered protesters on both sides of the political divide to disperse and go home.
“In order to keep peace and order, all protesters from every group must leave for their homes immediately,” an army spokesman said in a televised address, adding that buses had been arranged to take them away.
Prayuth gave no indication how long the military would hold power.
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