Army chief Prayuth seizes power

national May 23, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Remaining 18 ex-ministers ordered to report to npomc; senior govt official Kittipong denies he is pm candidate; curfew imposed nationwide from 10pm to 5am until further notice; all protesters dispersed by soldiers

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday staged a coup to seize power after warring parties failed to reach a compromise to bring the country out of the months-long political crisis.

Two days after the declaration of martial law that resulted in two rounds of meetings between the rival groups, Prayuth lost patience and ordered the detention of more than 30 representatives attending the talks before seizing power.

“In order for the country to return to normal quickly, the National Peacekeeping Committee comprising the Armed Forces and the police needed to seize power as of May 22, at 4.30pm,” he announced on television.

The Constitution, except Chapter 2 on the Monarchy, was temporarily suspended. The Cabinet was terminated and its 18 members were summoned – including acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who was reportedly in hiding in a safe house, deputy premier Phongthep Thepkan-jana, Charupong Ruangsuwan, who is also the leader of Pheu Thai Party – to report to the committee. The committee, later yesterday, changed its name to the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney rejected a rumour that Niwattumrong had sought political asylum in the US embassy. “Absolutely false. Do not believe rumours,” she tweeted.

Many names, including Kittipong Kittayarak, adviser to the PM, were floated to take over as the new premier. Kittipong responded on his Facebook page that it was a rumour and nobody had contacted him on the matter.

The courts, the Senate and other constitutional independent organisations would continue to function as usual. Prayuth urged people to remain calm and continue their lives as usual. He said the bureaucracy would run the country in the absence of a government. It was reported earlier that former premier Thaksin Shinawatra had sought amnesty in exchange for an end to his political role.

Relations with foreign countries would continue as usual, and diplomatic corps, representatives of international organisations and foreigners living in Thailand would be protected, Prayuth said.

All units of the Armed Forces were ordered to remain at their stations, he said. Curfew was imposed between 10pm and 5am.

Gatherings of more than five people for political purposes are prohibited. Educational institutions have been told to remain closed from today until Sunday.

The pro-government red-shirt protesters at Aksa Road were dispersed shortly after the seizure of power. The anti-government protesters also ended their rally.

Prayuth enforced martial law on Tuesday, saying he wanted to prevent violence and enable negotiations between the political rivals. The first round of talks on Wednesday failed to reach any solution, and the commander then told all of them to give him answers yesterday.

Representatives of the warring groups from the government, the ruling Pheu Thai Party, the opposition Democrat Party, the pro-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), Senate and Election Commission (EC) attended the meeting.

They were given a break after two hours of the meeting. Prayuth invited UDD leader Jatuporn Promphan and PDRC’s Suthep Thaugsuban for a chat.

When the meeting resumed, Prayuth asked caretaker Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri, who led the government representatives at the meeting, whether the government would resign. Chaikasem told Prayuth that “as of this minute, the government will not resign”, according to a source.

“Then, as of this minute, I have decided to seize power,” the source quoted Prayuth as replying.

All representatives of the warring groups, except those from the Senate and the EC, were later taken into custody at the First Infantry Division, Vibhawadi Road.

Acting Senate Speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai said as the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council took over, that the Senate would stop its road map to end the political crisis.

“If we could turn back the clock, the politicians should have provided more cooperation to help save the country,” he said.


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