Thailand's army has seized power, suspended the majority of the country's constitution, taken most broadcasters off air, banned gatherings of more than five people, and imposed a night-time curfew - now in effect.
The Thai military staged a coup on Thursday, saying it was responding to failed attempts to reconcile rival political factions in the country. There were no immediate signs of a heavy army presence, or reports of public resistance or casualites in the country.
"The National Peace and Order Maintenance Council has taken power on May 22, at 4:30 p.m. (0930 UTC)," Prayuth said. The general said that failed talks seeking reconciliation between the country's rival political factions, held at the Army Club in the capital Bangkok, prompted him to seize control of the country.
"In order 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," Prayuth said.
Soldiers had surrounded the military building hosting the failed talks, and later escorted away two key protest leaders, anti-goverment leader Suthep Thaugsuban and Jatuporn Prompan, who heads the 'red shirts' supporting the former Shinawatra government. Caretaker Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan did not attend the meeting, sending a delegation of ministers in his stead.
Broadcasters, movement restricted
The military later ordered broadcasters to suspend their usual programming and air army announcements and patriotic music. Prayuth summoned ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the current caretaker cabinet to the country's new ruling military commission.
Authorities put a curfew in place from 10 p.m. local time (1500 UTC) until 5 a.m., prompting a frenzied rush to get home on Bangkok's public transport networks and roads.
The military also repeatedly called on protesters from all sides to disperse, ultimately banning even small gatherings of people in public.
"No gathering can take place anywhere with five people or more … Anyone who violates this could be liable to not less than one year in prison," deputy army spokesman Winthai Suwari said in a televised statement.
The UN on Thursday voiced concern at the military coup and warned that the imposition of martial law could infringe on fundamental human rights.
"We remind the authorities of Thailand's obligations under international human rights law…which strictly limit the application of emergency powers," UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. "We urge the authorities to take all necessary means to ensure the fundamental human rights are respected."
An end to months of Thai turmoil?
Thailand's latest political unrest began on October 31 last year, when then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced new amnesty laws that seemed designed for her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is currently living in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges, he was ousted in Thailand's last coup in 2006.
In response to weeks of anti-government protests against her government, Yingluck called snap elections. The opposition Democrat Party subsequently boycotted the polls and in March, the election commission ultimately annulled the vote of February 2. Opponents of the ballot were able to prevent voting from taking place on the same day around the country, with the polls never even opening in a handful of constituencies.
Yingluck's Pheu Thai party has won every Thai election since the turn of the century, buoyed by strong support in rural areas to the east of the country. But the country's influential establishment and middle class, including the majority of voters in Bangkok and along the western coast, tend not to support the party. An expensive government rice subsidy, in particular, was unpopular among opposition parties.
The military on Thursday suspended the country's constitution, save for the provision denoting Thailand as a constitutional monarchy with King Bhumibol Adulyadej as head of state. Since Thailand abandoned absolute monarchy in 1932, the military has staged 12 successful coups.
msh/hc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)