WASHINGTON D.C. – US Secretary John Kerry issued this press statement: I am disappointed by the decision of the Thai military to suspend the constitution and take control of the government after a long period of political turmoil, and there is no justification for this military coup. I am concerned by reports that senior political leaders of Thailand’s major parties have been detained and call for their release. I am also concerned that media outlets have been shut down.
I urge the restoration of civilian government immediately, a return to democracy, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as press freedoms. The path forward for Thailand must include early elections that reflect the will of the people.
While we value our long friendship with the Thai people, this act will have negative implications for the US–Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military. We are reviewing our military and other assistance and engagements, consistent with US law.
In more developments:
The US ambassador in Thailand said on Thursday night that the acting Thai prime minister is not at the US embassy in Bangkok.
Ambassador Kristie Kenney was commenting on reports that Mr. Niwuttamrong Boonsongpaisan was seeking refuge at the US embassy after Thai army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that the military had taken over control from the government.
“Absolutely false. Do not believe rumors,” the US diplomat tweeted.
In another tweet, the US embassy warned of “fraudulent postings and rumors circulating online.”
The Nation news website had earlier reported that Mr. Niwuttumrong did not attend the meeting hosted by the army chief at the Royal Army Club intended to find a solution to the ongoing political crisis. All rival groups were invited to the second day of talks on Thursday.
The premier had been absent from the meeting since the first day, claiming he was the premier and will not attend the meeting hosted by the army chief.
Thursday’s meeting was inconclusive as well, reported The Nation.
At 5 pm local time on Thursday, General Prayuth announced on TV that the military had taken over control of the government. The constitution was suspended and members of the deposed government were told to report to the military by end of Thursday.
All protesters were told to go home and a curfew was set throughout Thailand from 10 pm to 5 am.
The Bangkok Post published a comment questioning the coup shortly after the announcement:
Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha justified his decision to stage yesterday’s coup as necessary to prevent further loss of life and stop the political conflict from escalating.
The rationale is short-sighted. Gen Prayuth may have good intentions at heart but seizing administrative power by force will only cause the situation to deteriorate further.
The army chief said a military takeover was necessary to return the situation to normal. He was speaking after the seven parties meeting to find a way out of the political crisis failed to find a solution after a second day of talks.
He said the coup will pave the way for people to come together and love one another once again, like in the past.
Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha leaves the Army Club, where the meeting was held on Thursday, before he announced a coup.
The army chief should know better. Gen Prayuth was part of the last coup-making effort led by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin that seized power from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.
Over the past eight years, he must have witnessed how an anti-coup movement was born — the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) as we know it today.
Gen Prayuth must have seen how the coup-installed government led by Privy Councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont failed to restore unity or establish a sense of fairness.
He must have seen how the much coveted goal of national reconciliation has grown more and more elusive since the 2006 coup that was aimed at restoring peace and national harmony, the same goals as the coup he is shepherding now.
He must have known that we have arrived at the current conflict between the caretaker government and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) in large part because of that 2006 coup.
There is no question the political conflicts have become entrenched, involving a complex web of conflicting values and political aspirations. They have also polarized virtually every citizen and interest group in the country.
As must be evident to Gen Prayuth, who assumed the role of refereeing the peace talks for two days, such deep-seated strife cannot be resolved quickly.
Adding another putsch to our lengthy history of coups will only deepen the entanglement, making it even harder to solve and inflaming anger among people on opposite poles.
In his first address, Gen Prayuth also said the coup was intended to allow reform of the country’s political, economic and social structure to ensure fairness for everyone.
This is easier said than done. It’s not that people are against reform. In fact they want it. But reform has also been identified as part of the agenda of the anti-government PDRC group. How could Gen Prayuth go about implementing it without being seen as biased?
In fact, if everyone had agreed to the reform agenda or procedure we would not be facing such deep political divisions and such deadlock.
The coup will prompt members of the international community to impose sanctions. The country’s economy will suffer, turning into further hardship for ordinary citizens.
There is no doubt Gen Prayuth saw a clear and present danger when he decided to use force to take state power. He even said seizing power would prevent bloodshed and preserve national security.
The sad thing is it’s the very act of a military takeover that is likely to stir up stiff resistance, provoke acts of violence and possibly cause more loss of life. This coup is not the solution.
Earlier developments on Thursday:
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 4:30 pm,” 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 rumor that Niwattumrong had sought political asylum in the US embassy. “Absolutely false. Do not believe rumors,” 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 rumor and nobody had contacted him on the matter.
The courts, the Senate and other constitutional independent organizations 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 organizations 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 10 pm and 5 am.
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.