Friday, May 23, 2014

Thailand: Update--Martial Law Takes Hold, Nighttime Curfew, Tourists Urged to Leave, Hording Warranted

According to Reuters, Thailand's military rulers detained former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, on Friday (May 23), a senior officer said, after summoning her for talks a day after the army overthrew her caretaker government in a coup.

As the army moved to consolidate its grip on the country, its chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, set out his plans for the country, saying reforms were needed before an election. But some Thais defied martial law to protest against the takeover.

Prayuth launched his coup after rival factions refused to be flexible in their respective power struggles between the royalist establishment and Yingluck's populist government that had raised fears of serious violence and damaged the economy.

"We have detained ousted PM Yingluck, her sister and brother-in-law," a senior military officer told Reuters. The two relatives have held top political posts.

General Prayuth declined to say where Yingluck was being held, but media said she was at an army base in Saraburi province, north of Bangkok. 

Soldiers detained politicians from both sides on Thursday (May 22) after Prayuth announced the military takeover, which drew swift international condemnation. In what appeared to be a coordinated operation to neutralize possible opposition to the coup, the military summoned the ousted Yingluck to a meeting and then banned her and 154 others, including politicians and activists, from leaving Thailand.

Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon turned politician who won huge support among the poor but the loathing of the royalist establishment, largely over accusations of corruption and nepotism. He was ousted as PM in a 2006 military coup. 

COMMENT: Yingluck was forced to step down as prime minister by the Constitutional Court on May 7, but her government, buffeted by more than six months of protests against it.    

The military has censored the media, dispersed rival protesters on both sides, imposed a nationwide curfew between 2200 and 0500 hours and told scores of people that they cannot leave the country.

Bangkok was mostly calm and life appeared normal but there was some opposition to the military takeover.

The military suspended television and radio broadcasts on Thursday (May 22) and made channels broadcast its material, but six free-to-air channels came back on the air late on Friday (May 23).

Several satellite channels including partisan ones on both sides, remained banned. International news channels were off the air and the military threatened to block provocative websites.

The military briefed diplomats on Friday (May 23), although some declined the invitation, apparently as a gesture of disapproval.

Prayuth is a member of the royalist establishment generally seen as hostile to the Shinawatras, although he tried for months to keep the army out of the strife and to appear even-handed.

General Prayuth, head of the Thai Army is 60 and due to retire later this year, took over the powers of the prime minister, but it was not clear if he intended to hold on to the position.

An undercurrent of a crisis that is dividing rich and poor is deep anxiety over the issue of royal succession. King Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, is 86 and spent the years from 2009 to 2013 in hospital.

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same devotion as his father, but some Thaksin supporters have recently been making a point of their loyalty to the prince.

The anti-Thaksin protesters had demanded electoral changes that would end the Shinawatras' success at the ballot box. Thaksin or his parties have won every election since 2001.

Mass protests by Thaksin's well-organized loyalists would be a major test for the military. 

Thailand's economy contracted 2.1% in the first quarter of 2014, largely because of the prolonged unrest, which has frightened off tourists and dented confidence, bringing fears of a recession.

Not knowing how long the military-imposed curfew is expected to last, those foreign travelers currently in Thailand for tourism are urged to leave.

Those remaining should take steps to ensure they have plenty of water for cooking purposes, non-perishable food and household staples due to impulsive hording.

The situation in Thailand will be updated daily.