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Thailand crisis: General Prayuth turns martial law into full coup after months of street protest

Top army chief announces 18th coup since 1932 in television address and calls for swift return to normality

Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha turned martial law into an overt army coup yesterday.

General Prayuth went on national TV to announce that his forces were taking control of the government following months of deadly clashes.

He told the divided nation: “In order for the country to return to normal quickly, the National Peacekeeping Committee, comprised of the army, the Thai armed forces, the royal air force and the police need to seize power as of May 22 at 4.30pm.”

He added: “All Thais must remain calm and government officials must work as normal.”

Flanked by the heads of the armed forces, General Prayuth said the coup had been launched “to quickly bring the situation back to normal, to let the people have love and unity as in the past, and to reform the political and economic systems.”

He said the constitution was being suspended and all cabinet ministers must report to the military by the end of the day.

A nationwide curfew from 10pm to 5am was imposed and meetings of more than five people were immediately banned.

TV and radio have been ordered to stop normal programming and only broadcast army material.

The coup followed the failure of talks during two days of meetings between rival political leaders called by the army. Pro-and anti-government political leaders failed to find any basis for agreement.

However, they were not allowed to walk away unscathed.

According to witnesses, they were taken away by soldiers at the end of the proceedings. It was unclear whether they had been formally detained.

The army ordered rival protest camps to break up and soldiers fired into the air to disperse thousands of pro-government “red shirt” activists gathered in Bangkok.

A military statement confirmed that the nation’s caretaker government was no longer in power but said the Senate would remain in place. A local thinktank estimated recently that 90 per cent of senators are anti-government.

The Thai army has a long and dishonourable record of intervening in politics — there have been 18 successful or attempted coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

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