Last updated: May 22, 2014 7:40 pm

Sanctions in prospect as Thai generals take power

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Thailand’s military has launched its 12th coup of the modern era, plunging southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy further into crisis and raising the prospect of international sanctions.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, army chief, used a televised address to urge people not to panic and said the military was taking over “to restore peace back to the country”. Minutes earlier, troops had moved to detain political leaders who had been summoned by the military to discuss the country’s future under martial law.

A curfew was declared from 10pm on Thursday until 5am on Friday. CNN, BBC and other cable news channels were taken off the air.

John Kerry, US secretary of state, said America was “reviewing” military and other assistance it gives to Thailand as a result of yesterday’s coup. He urged the immediate restoration of civilian rule and a return to democracy.

“I am concerned by reports that senior political leaders of Thailand’s major parties have been detained and call for their release,” Mr Kerry said. He warned that the coup would have “negative implications . . . especially for our ­relationship with the Thai ­military”.

Japan said the coup was regrettable, while the UK said it was “concerned” about the army’s move. “Political instability and the continued violence undermine Thailand’s democratic framework,” the British Foreign Office said.

The EU said it was following developments with “extreme ­concern”.

The latest assertion of the military’s primacy in Thailand’s nominally democratic system is a test for investors who have stuck with the export-manufacturing hub despite years of political turmoil and a shrinking economy. The Thai baht fell on the news and was 0.3 per cent down on Thursday.

FT Video

Pressure building in Thailand

May 2014: After the ousting of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the opposition ‘yellow shirts’ are making a fresh push to oust the government. But loyalist ‘red shirts’ are planning their own demonstration.

Gen Prayuth, flanked by senior officers in his broadcast, said the military was responding to violence that has claimed more than 30 lives during a six-month political crisis. “For the situation to return to normal quickly and for society to love and be at peace again . . . and to reform the political, economic and social structure, the military needs to take control of power,” he said.

The general urged people to continue their daily lives and pledged to maintain Thailand’s international relationships, adding that diplomats and other foreigners in the country would be protected. Several television and radio stations went off air immediately after the announcement.

The military’s move, two days after imposing martial law, risks triggering sanctions from western allies. The US is now obliged to review its relationship with the Thai military, including training and multilateral Asian-focused exercises held on Thai soil – one of which, a bilateral nine-country naval operation called Carat, is running now.

The coup is bad, bad news for Thailand, too bad that army are too myopic to see that the coup benefits no one long term

- Office of leading opposition Democrat Korn Chatikavanij

Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the six-month-old street protest movement, was one of those detained by troops during a second day of talks between military chiefs and political leaders. Senior figures in the pro-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, popularly known as the “red shirts”, are also in detention.

Troops fired into the air to disperse a pro-government protest site on the outskirts of Bangkok, demonstrators said, although the city centre remained calm.

Although some opposition protesters who have been campaigning to topple the government for six months celebrated news of the coup, the military’s intentions remained unclear. Some government supporters and independent analysts see the action as the last stage in a slow-motion takeover by the royalist establishment of the elected government.

But the country is also suffering from anxieties about its way of life and future, not least over the stability of the succession to the ageing monarch of almost 68 years, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

In a sign of the sense of uncertainty and foreboding immediately after the coup announcement, the office of Korn Chatikavanij, a leading member of the opposition Democrats, tweeted: “The coup is bad, bad news for Thailand, too bad that army are too myopic to see that the coup benefits no one long term.”

The crisis is centred on the political movement of Thaksin Shinawatra, a self-exiled former prime minister who is popular with rural Thais but tarnished by allegations of corruption, human rights violations and abuses of power.

Opposition protesters say they are campaigning to rid politics of his influence but red shirts say the deeper agenda is to subvert Thailand’s fragile democracy and restore the country’s elite political establishment, whose dominance was ended after 2001 by the election victories of pro-Thaksin parties.

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