Thailand’s army declared martial law on Tuesday in attempt to restore order after months of street protests that left Thailand without properly functioning government, but insisted the surprise intervention was not a military coup.
When troops were patrolling several regions of the country’s capital and army spokesmen took to the airwaves, the caretaker government led by supporters of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra announced that it was still running the country.
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters that the military would bring to Thailand order and build investor confidence, and warned that troops would take action against anyone who used weapons and harmed civilians.
“We ask all sides to come and talk to find a way out for the country,” Prayuth said in a press conference after meeting directors of government agencies and other top officials.
Military authorities claimed that they hadn’t set talks with the current government, while ministers didn’t know anything of the army’s plan before an announcement on television at 3 a.m. (2000 GMT on Monday) and Prayuth said martial law would be maintained until peace and order had been restored.
“Twenty-eight people have been killed and 700 injured since the anti-government protests began in November last year,” Reuters reminds. “The crisis is the latest installment of a near-decade-long power struggle between former telecoms tycoon Thaksin and the royalist establishment that has brought the country to the brink of recession and even raised fears of civil war.”
Troops suspended some traffic from entering the country’s capital after the martial law order was announced on Tuesday night. They also took up position at some intersections and secured television stations, but life went on as normal in most of the city.
However, Human Rights Watch described martial law a “de facto coup” while a political analyst claimed it was a “phantom coup”.
“For this to be a success the army needs to act like a neutral force and not be seen to side with the anti-government protesters. It needs to offer an election date and start a political reform process,” said Kan Yuenyong at the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank.
Martial law gives the military broad powers over civilian authorities, but a full coup would likely incur costs in terms of greater damage to investor confidence and U.S. sanctions.
The United States, which cut aid to its military ally after the 2006 coup, said it was monitoring the situation closely.
“We expect the army to honor its commitment to make this a temporary action to prevent violence, and to not undermine democratic institutions,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Prayuth had warned a few days ago, after an attack on anti-government protesters took lives of tree people, that troops might have to be used if violence continued.
“He now feels that the police cannot handle security and is alarmed by grenade attacks and other incidents and the fact neither side looks like it will back down,” said a senior army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.