Martial law declared in Thailand

Members of the Thai military march in Bangkok. Photo / AFP
Members of the Thai military march in Bangkok. Photo / AFP

Thailand's army declared martial law in a surprise announcement in Bangkok, intensifying the turbulent nation's deepening political crisis.

The military, however, denied a coup d'etat was underway.

The move came after six months of anti-government demonstrations aimed at ousting the government and one day after the Southeast Asian country's caretaker prime minister refused to step down.

Thailand gripped by political unrest

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The army said in a statement that the military had taken the action to "keep peace and order" and soldiers entered several private television stations in the capital.

An army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, told The Associated Press "this is definitely not a coup.

This is only to provide safety to the people and the people can still carry on their lives as normal."

A ticker on Chanel 5, an army station, also denied the military was taking over and asked the public not to panic.

Thailand's army has staged at 11 successful coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

The military statement was signed by army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha. It cited a 1914 law that gives it authority to intervene during times of crisis, and said it had taken the action because on-going mass rallies between political rivals "could impact the country's security and safety of the lives and properties of the public."

On Monday, Thailand's acting prime minister insisted his government will not resign, resisting pressure from a group of senators who are seeking ways to settle the country's political crisis, and from anti-government protesters who are demanding an appointed prime minister.

The deadlock in Southeast Asia's second-largest economy has been worsening since former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the lower house in December and a court ousted her and nine Cabinet ministers earlier this month for abuse of power.

A group of about 70 senators, most of whom are seen as siding with the anti-government protesters, proposed a framework on Friday that calls for a government with full power to conduct political reforms.

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Acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan and Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri met with two representatives of the Senate in an undisclosed location Monday to avoid disruption from the protesters.

In a statement following the meeting, Niwattumrong said the Cabinet cannot resign because "it will be negligence of duty and against the constitution," and insisted he "can carry out duties and has full authority" as prime minister.

The Cabinet has operated in a caretaker capacity with limited power since Yingluck dissolved the lower house in December in a failed bid to ease the political crisis. A new government cannot normally be named until there are elections, which anti-government demonstrators have vowed to block unless political reforms occur first.

The Senate, the only functioning legislative body in the country, was seen as the last resort of the anti-government protesters, who are calling for an interim, unelected prime minister to be chosen.

Earlier this month, the Constitutional Court removed Yingluck for nepotism along with nine Cabinet members in a case that many viewed as politically motivated. Protesters said her removal is not enough because she was replaced by an acting prime minister from the ruling party, Niwattumrong.

Anti-government protesters say they are making their final push to oust the government and install an unelected prime minister and government. They have promised to call off their rallies if they are not successful by May 26, following six months of street demonstrations in which 28 people have died and hundreds of others have been injured.

The protesters on Monday began searching for members of the Cabinet at their residences to pressure them to resign, but did not find any.

Labor unions representing about 20 state-owned enterprises vowed to go on strike Thursday to support the anti-government protesters, although several companies, including Thai Airways and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, said Monday that they would operate normally.

Thailand's political crisis began in 2006, when Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, remains highly popular among the poor in the north and northeast, and parties controlled by him have won every national election since 2001. The anti-government protesters, who are aligned with the opposition Democrat Party and backed by the country's traditional elites, say they want to remove all traces of his political machine from politics.

Thaksin's supporters, known as the Red Shirts, have staged a rally in Bangkok's western outskirts since May 10, raising concerns about possible clashes between them and the anti-government protesters.

-AP

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