Opposition to Thai army coup simmers

May 25, 2014 - 12:45:47 am
A soldier keeps watch over an anti-coup protest at the Victory monument in Bangkok yesterday.

BANGKOK:  Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was in a “safe place” yesterday, an aide said, after being held by the army following a coup, as opposition to the takeover grew among her supporters and pro-democracy activists. 

The army moved on Thursday after failing to forge a compromise in a power struggle between Yingluck’s populist government and the royalist establishment, which brought months of sometimes violent unrest to Bangkok’s streets.

Consolidating its grip, the military dissolved the Senate yesterday, the only legislative assembly still functioning in Thailand. It also sacked three top security officials who were seen as close to the ousted government. 

The military detained Yingluck on Friday when she and about 150 other people, most of them political associates, were summoned to an army facility in Bangkok. More people were summoned this weekend, including some outspoken academics. 

A senior officer said Yingluck could be held for up to a week and media reported she had been taken to an army base in Saraburi province north of Bangkok, but an aide denied that. 

“Now she’s in a safe place ... She has not been detained in any military camp. That’s all I can say at this moment,” the aide said, declining to be identified. 

A source from her Puea Thai Party said Yingluck was not absolutely free because soldiers were monitoring her, and several former ministers from her cabinet were being held in army facilities in Saraburi. 

Army deputy spokesman Winthai Suvaree told a news conference that anyone being held would not be detained for more than seven days. He did not mention Yingluck. 

Thailand’s political woes are the latest chapter in a nearly decade-long clash between the Bangkok-based establishment and Thaksin Shinawatra, a former telecommunications tycoon who broke the mould of Thai politics with pro-poor policies that won him huge support and repeated electoral victories. 

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and left the country after a 2008 graft conviction, but he remains Thailand’s most influential politician and was the guiding hand behind the government of Yingluck, his sister. 

The army said yesterday that King Bhumibol Adulyadej had acknowledged the military takeover, a significant formality in a country where the monarchy is the most important institution. 

An undercurrent of the crisis is anxiety over the issue of royal succession. The king, 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. 

Despite international calls for the restoration of democratic government, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has not promised a swift return to civilian rule, insisting there must be broad reforms and stability first. 

“We must have economic, social and political reforms before elections,” Prayuth told civil servants on Friday in his first comments on his plans since the coup. “If the situation is peaceful, we are ready to return power to the people.” 

But reforms could take many months and stability could be elusive.

Many countries have issued travel warnings for Thailand.  The United States swiftly condemned the coup and has said it is reviewing its aid to Thailand. The US State Department said on Friday it had suspended about $3.5m in military aid, including a portion for training. 

Human Rights Watch said rights in Thailand were in “free fall.”                           Reuters

 

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