BANGKOK (AP) — After six months of political deadlock, protests and deadly violence, Thailand’s military seized power in a coup and scrapped the constitution on Thursday. It was the country’s second coup in eight years and 12th since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. Here’s a summary of events and a guide to understanding what is happening.
HOW IS THE COUP PLAYING OUT?
Most of Thailand has been calm, and little if any military presence has been seen on the streets of Bangkok. Hundreds of anti-coup activists, however, have held protests in central Bangkok, defying the military’s ban on large gatherings. Troops dispersed demonstrators on Friday evening, detaining at least two people.
Protesters returned Saturday, and attempted to make their way to Victory Monument, a major Bangkok landmark. They briefly confronted rows of soldiers and police who were lined up with riot shields on a road leading to the monument, with a few scuffles breaking out before most of the protesters broke away. They were later seen streaming onto the city’s Skytrain elevated transit system, apparently riding over police lines to the monument.
By late afternoon, about 500 demonstrators had gathered at Victory Monument. Army and police presence was low key, and the groups dispersed before a 10 p.m. curfew came into effect.
Restrictions on TV broadcasts and on posting inflammatory comments on social media remained in effect, and many Thais were reluctant to comment publicly on the coup.
KEY FIGURES DETAINED
The coup leaders have summoned former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Cabinet members and anti-government protest leaders and said Saturday that they would be detained for up to a week to give them “time to think” and to keep the country calm.
The army said the detainees were being well-treated and that the aim of the military was to achieve a political compromise.
The military also summoned 35 other people, including more politicians, political activists and, for the first time, outspoken academics and journalists, to “maintain peace and order.” One of those on the list, Kyoto University professor of Southeast Asian studies Pavin Chachavalpongpun, said he would not turn himself in.
“The military claiming to be a mediator in the Thai conflict, that is all just nonsense,” Chachavalpongpun said from Japan. “This is not about paving the way for reform and democratization. We are really going back to the crudest form of authoritarianism.”
The junta announced Saturday evening that the Senate would be dissolved and that it would assume all lawmaking power.
It had left the Senate in place when it suspended the constitution and dissolved the lower house of Parliament on Thursday, presumably in hopes that the upper house might later approve some of its measures and provide a vestige of democracy. The reason for Saturday’s about-face was not known.
Several nations have condemned the coup, and the United States announced Saturday that it had canceled ongoing military exercises with Thailand. Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said U.S. law and “our own democratic principles” require the U.S. to reconsider its long military relationship with the Southeast Asian country.
The Pentagon is also canceling the June visit of U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris to Thailand and is withdrawing the invitation to the commander general of the Royal Thai Armed Forces to visit U.S. Pacific Command in June, Kirby said.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged Thailand to “ensure respect for human rights and a prompt restoration of the rule of law in the country.” Human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, criticized the detentions of political leaders.
WHAT LED TO THIS?
Street protests started in November against then-Prime Minister Yingluck, and she dissolved the lower house of Parliament in a failed bid to ease the crisis. A court ousted her for nepotism this month but left the ruling party in place. Anti-government protesters wanted to install an unelected prime minister to make unspecified reforms they said would root out corruption and remove the Shinawatra family’s influence from politics.
In first declaring martial law on Tuesday, the army said it needed to restore order. At least 28 people have died in protest-related violence since November.
Thailand’s powerful army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, assumed the role of mediator by summoning key political rivals for their first face-to-face talks since the political turmoil escalated six months ago. Meetings on Wednesday and Thursday among bitter enemies failed to break the deadlock before Prayuth announced the coup.
THE GENERAL IN CHARGE
Prayuth has defended the coup as necessary to restore stability to the country. He briefed foreign diplomats Friday about the coup and said the lifespan of the ruling military council would depend on how soon the current political conflict can be eased, Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow said.
He said Prayuth told them a reform council would be established along with an interim government, and that they would lead to an eventual election.
Prayuth, 60, is known for his loyalty to the monarchy, especially to Queen Sirikit, having served in the 21st Infantry Regiment, known as the Queen’s Guard. Both Prayuth and his predecessor and mentor, former army chief Gen. Anupong Phaochinda, played key roles in the 2006 coup that toppled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother.