BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s ruling military made its first order of the day summoning members of the politically influential Shinawatra family to a meeting Friday morning, a day after it seized control of this volatile Southeast Asian nation in a bloodless coup.
There was hardly any visible military presence on Bangkok’s emptier-than-usual streets.
For seven months, anti-government protesters have been calling for the removal of the Shinawatra family and its alleged corrupting influence from Thai politics. Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was sacked by the Constitutional Court earlier this month for nepotism, has not been seen in public for several days.
The country’s junta leader, army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced he was taking power Thursday to restore stability and normalcy and stop sporadic outbursts of violence that left 28 people dead and hundreds injured since this round of turmoil began in November.
It was Thailand’s second coup in eight years.
The last one, in 2006, was what launched Thailand’s turmoil. It ousted Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon whose populist movement has won every national election since 2001. He lives in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges, but his opponents, mainly the urban middle and upper class, claim he still wields enormous influence over the country’s political affairs.
It was not immediately clear if Yingluck and more than 20 other relatives and allies, including acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, would report to the military as ordered.
In response to rumors that Niwattumrong was being protected at the U.S. Embassy compound, the American Ambassador Kristie Kenney tweeted: “Absolutely false. Do not believe rumors.”
Traffic was lighter than usual Friday morning in Bangkok and schools across the country were ordered closed, but life in the bustling metropolis of 10 million people appeared relatively normal, with street vendors setting up stalls, commuters heading into work and delivery trucks making their rounds after the military had imposed a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
In the city center, the few military vehicles that had diverted cars on some major roads overnight were gone, and there were no reports of overnight violence.
The main indication of military presence was on the television, where regular programming was replaced by a static screen showing military crests and the junta’s self-declared name: “National Peace and Order Maintaining Council.” Patriotic music filled air time, interrupted by occasional annoucenemnts from military officials.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the takeover and warned it would “have negative implications for the U.S.-Thai relationship,” but did not announce immediate punitive steps. The State Department said it was reviewing millions in aid.
“There is no justification for this military coup,” Kerry said in a statement that also called for the release of detained political leaders and a return of press freedom.
Thursday’s dramatic events were the culmination of a societal schism laid bare after the 2006 coup deposed former Thaksin.
The conflict pits a majority rural poor in the north and northeast, who benefited from Thaksin’s populist policies, against an urban-based elite based in Bangkok and the south that is concerned it is losing power.
It is a divide that has led to upheaval multiple times in recent years.
Thailand’s political tensions have played out against a backdrop of fears about the future of its monarchy. Thaksin’s critics have accused him of disrespecting ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej and trying to gain influence with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the heir to the throne.
Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Grant Peck and Ian Mader in Bangkok, and Lolita Baldor and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.