Martial Law Declared in Thailand

Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives at the Peace and Order Maintaing Command to meet with senior government officials on Tuesday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

Martial Law Declared in Thailand

Military says it is trying to restore "peace and order" as long-running political stalemate keeps nation teetering on edge

The Thailand military, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has declared martial law on Tuesday in what it claims is "not a coup" but an attempt to bring "peace and order" back to the southeast Asian country amid deep political divisions.

Troops have taken to the streets of Bangkok, shut down key television and radio stations, and asked demonstators on both sides of the political divide to refrain from demonstrating so that talks between the two sides can resume.

"The royal Thai army intends to bring back peace and order to the beloved country of every Thai as soon as possible," said Prayuth in a statement to reporters in the capital. "We intend to see the situation resolved quickly."

"We ask all sides to come and talk to find a way out for the country," Prayuth added.

According to the The Bangkok Post, the general said the nation's political crisis had reached a point where the military was compelled, citing its authority under the nation's Martial Law Act, to "suppress armed elements and war weapons."

As the Post reports:

Prayuth gave an assurance that only some sections of the Martial Law Act would be enforced, to ensure the safety of the lives and property of the people. Other provisions would not be enforced because they woud have widespread impact and cause future problems.

The army chief said he could not say for certain how long martial law would remain in force. It would depend on the situation.

Asked if martial law could lead to a full-scale coup, he replied: "Who would answer a question like that?"

Martial law would be lifted after the situation had improved, he said.

"Our intention is to push the country forward. We hope all government officials and members of the public sector cooperate, so that problems can be quickly resolved. We will try to reach that point as soon as possible, but don't ask whether it (the martial law) will stay a long time or not.

"We only want to see the country in peace, with security. Nobody wants to keep this law in place for a long time. Let us all help find a way out as soon as possible," Gen Prayuth said.

Gen Prayuth said he would definitely not allow further bloodshed on Thai soil.

And The Guardian's Francis Wade, reporting from Bangkok, adds:

On Monday, the caretaker prime minister, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, refused protesters' demands to step down. The army did not inform the caretaker government of its plan to declare martial law.

While troops were deployed along a number of roads in Bangkok and soldiers took back Government House and other buildings that had been occupied by anti-government protesters, the situation in the capital remained largely calm, with schools and businesses open and traffic flowing as usual. [...]

Thailand has been gripped by off-and-on political turmoil since 2006 when the then prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The army, which is seen by many as sympathetic to anti-government protesters, has staged 11 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

One anti-government protester, Wichada, who has been on the streets for nearly 200 days, welcomed the intervention. "We're very happy about the army's announcement because it means they are on our side," she told the Guardian from a protest camp next to Democracy Monument in Bangkok's old city.

The internal politics of Thailand remain complex for those who do not follow it regularly. And as Walden Bello explained in a post that appeared on Common Dreams earlier this year, the intricacies do not conform easily to characterizations along recognizable left/right or anti-/pro-democracy lines.

Writing in early February, one point that Bello did make was that the military--reluctant to engage in another coup against its government like the one in 2006--was at that point doing everything it could to stay above the fray as it pushed for a political settlement.

As of Tuesday, there appears to be a radical--if not wholly unexpected--shift in that position.

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