Army rounds up potential critics

Ousted Thai legislators detained and activists, journalists and others ordered to surrender to the military.

A soldier confronts protesters in Bangkok. Photo / AP
A soldier confronts protesters in Bangkok. Photo / AP

In a chilling move apparently aimed at neutralising critics and potential opposition, Thailand's new army junta ordered dozens of outspoken activists, academics and journalists to surrender themselves to military authorities.

The junta, which is already holding most of the Government it ousted in a coup, said it would keep former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and others in custody for up to a week to give them "time to think" and to keep the country calm.

Two days after the army seized power in Thailand's first coup in eight years, it also faced scattered protests that came amid growing concern over the junta's intentions.

The military has dissolved the Senate - the last functioning democratic institution left - and absorbed its legislative powers.

"Military rule has thrown Thailand's rights situation into a freefall," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The army is using draconian martial law powers to detain politicians, activists and journalists, to censor media, and to ban all public gatherings.

This rolling crackdown needs to come to an end immediately."

Richard Bennett, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific director, said, "This is a dangerous precedent - people simply expressing opinions must not be penalised. The need for the military to exercise restraint is particularly crucial given that demonstrations calling for civilian rule could intensify."

At least 100 people, mostly top politicians, have been detained incommunicado so far. Deputy army spokesman Colonel Weerachon Sukondhapatipak said all were being well-treated and the army's aim was to achieve a political compromise.

Weerachon said all those held had had their cellphones confiscated because "we don't want them communicating with other people".

"We want them to be themselves and think on their own. This is because everybody involved in the conflict needs to calm down and have time to think. We don't intend to limit their freedom - it's to relieve the pressure."

The junta summoned 35 more people, including politicians, activists and, for the first time, outspoken academics and some journalists.

One of those on the list, Kyoto University professor of Southeast Asian studies Pavin Chachavalpongpun, said from Japan he would not turn himself in. He said the summons meant the junta felt insecure.

"The military claiming to be a mediator in the Thai conflict, that is all just nonsense," said Pavin, who is frequently quoted by foreign media. "This is not about paving the way for reform and democratisation. We are really going back to the crudest form of authoritarianism."

Pravit Rojanaphruk, an outspoken columnist for the English-language daily the Nation, was summoned to report to the army.

The junta also ordered banks to freeze the assets of two top politicians it had summoned but who remain in hiding, including the ousted education minister and the chief of the former ruling party. General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who leads the junta, has justified the coup by saying the army had to act to avert violence and end half a year of political turmoil triggered by anti-government protests that killed 28 people and injured more than 800.

Protesters confronted troops face-to-face on Saturday as anger over the army's seizure of power sparked heated protests in different regions.

In Bangkok, hundreds of anti-coup demonstrators rallied and a small number clashed with heavily armed troops, who dragged some away. There were also demonstrations in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

What happens next remains unclear. It does seem that Chan-o-cha is seeking to purge all people associated with Thaksin Shinawatra. The situation is tense, confusing and could quickly get uglier. What is obvious is that Chan-o-cha has all the power.

- Independent, AP

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