Thai coup leader insists on reform before election- UPDATED

Soldiers detained politicians from both sides when Prayuth announced the military takeover, which drew swift international condemnation, after talks he was presiding over broke down.

Thai coup leader insists on reform before election- UPDATED

World Bulletin/News Desk

 Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha set out his plans for the country on Friday, a day after seizing power in a coup, saying reforms were needed before an election, but some Thais defied martial law to show opposition to his takeover.

Prayuth launched his coup after rival factions refused to give ground in a struggle for power between the royalist establishment and a populist government that had raised fears of serious violence and damaged the economy.

Soldiers detained politicians from both sides after Prayuth announced the military takeover, which drew swift international condemnation.

Tightening its grip on the country on Friday, the military summoned ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to a meeting and then banned her and 154 others, including politicians and activists, from leaving Thailand.

Prayuth also summoned hundreds of civil servants and told them he needed their help.

"I want all civil servants to help organise the country," he said. "We must have economic, social and political reforms before elections. If the situation is peaceful, we are ready to return power to the people."

Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon turned politician who won huge support among the poor but the loathing of the royalist establishment, largely over accusations of corruption and nepotism. He was ousted as premier in another military coup in 2006.

Yingluck arrived at the army facility at noon, a Reuters witness said. Prayuth was there at the same time but there was no confirmation they had met.

After Prayuth had left, nine vans with tinted windows were seen leaving but it was not clear if Yingluck was in one of them or where they were going. An aide to a minister in the ousted government who declined to be identified said some people, including his minister, had been detained.

A former aide to Yingluck said she been out of telephone contact for several hours.

The military censored the media, dispersed rival protesters and imposed an nationwide 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

Yingluck was forced to step down as prime minister by a court on May 7 but her caretaker government, buffeted by more than six months of protests, had remained nominally in power, even after the army declared martial law on Tuesday.

Prayuth was expected to meet King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the royal palace in Hua Hin, south of Bangkok, to explain his actions.

The armed forces have a long history of intervening in politics - there have been 18 previous successful or attempted coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. 

STUDENTS SHOW OPPOSITION

Bangkok was calm and life appeared normal, although the military ordered all schools and universities to stay closed.

But there was some opposition to the takeover.

Several hundred people including students gathered in a central shopping district despite a ban on protests by five or more people to voice their opposition to military rule. Some held signs saying "No coup" and "Get Out Dictators".

A couple of hundred soldiers lined up across a road to contain the protesters and later dispersed them. There was no serious trouble but at least one person was detained, a Reuters witness said.

About 80 protesters also gathered in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thaksin's hometown, to denounce the putsch and call for an election, a Reuters witness said. Several policemen watched the protesters, who vowed to gather every day.

The former education minister in Yingluck's government also criticised the coup in a posting on Facebook.

"A coup will only make the situation worse. Seizing power is not a way out," Chaturon Chaisang said.

The military suspended television and radio broadcasts on Thursday and made channels broadcast its material, but six free-to-air channels came back on the air late on Friday.

Several satellite channels including partisan ones on both sides, remained banned. International news channels were off the air and the military threatened to block provocative websites.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday there was no justification for a coup which would have "negative implications" for ties with its ally, especially military ones.

The military briefed diplomats on Friday though some declined the invitation, apparently as a gesture of disapproval.

Prayuth is a member of the royalist establishment generally seen as hostile to the Shinawatras, although he tried for months to keep the army out of the strife and to appear even-handed.

The army chief, who is 60 and due to retire later this year, has taken over the powers of prime minister but it was not clear if he intended to hold on to the position.

An undercurrent of a crisis that is dividing rich and poor is deep anxiety over the issue of royal succession. King Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, is 86 and spent the years from 2009 to 2013 in hospital.

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same devotion as his father, but some Thaksin supporters have recently been making a point of their loyalty to the prince. 

MARKET REACTION MUTED

The anti-Thaksin protesters had demanded electoral changes that would end the Shinawatras' success at the ballot box. Thaksin or his parties have won every election since 2001.

Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters were angry but said they had no immediate plans for protests. Those who had been protesting in Bangkok dispersed peacefully after the coup.

But many political analysts were predicting tension and violence. Mass protests by Thaksin's well-organised loyalists would be a major test for the military.

In 2010, more than 90 people were killed in clashes, most when the army broke up protests against a pro-establishment government that had taken office after a pro-Thaksin administration was removed by the courts in 2008.

Investors have generally taken Thailand's upheavals in their stride and the market reaction to the coup was muted.

The baht was, at around 32.60 per dollar, firmer than its low point on Thursday of 32.70. The stock market opened down 2 percent but rallied to end 0.6 percent lower.

Thailand's economy contracted 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014 largely because of the prolonged unrest, which has frightened off tourists and dented confidence, bringing fears of recession.

Last Mod: 23 Mayıs 2014, 15:54
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