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Thailand coup: Bangkok in uneasy calm as former govt officials report to military junta

Published on May 23, 2014 2:02 PM
 

Former caretaker prime ministers Yingluck Shinawatra and Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan were among dozens of former Thai government officials who reported to Thailand's new military junta on Friday morning.

They arrived in a stream of cars with black-tinted windows - a Jaguar, a Porsche, a Mercedes Benz, big Volkswagen vans and SUVs - edging through a surging crowd of journalists and a phalanx of soldiers and police, and disappearing into an army club near the historic Royal Plaza in Bangkok's Dusit district.

Ms Yingluck arrived in her private bullet proof vehicle.

Over 100 people from both sides of the political divide were ordered to report to the junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, and the meeting took place behind closed doors and high walls.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul arrives at ArmyClub after being summoned by the army in Bangkok on May 23, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Media restrictions which were imposed on Thursday following the coup announcement, continued on Friday with TV screens showing armed forces logos and playing martial music, with occasional announcements from an army spokesman.

Elsewhere on Thursday night, no incidents were reported, but sources said the army launched a sweeping crackdown on "red shirt" supporters of the dislodged government. Many were in hiding.

General Prayuth, who seized power late on Thursday afternoon, arrested several political faction leaders at a meeting he was chairing, and suspended the constitution, assumed the position of acting prime minister late on Thursday night, pending the naming of a new premier.

The army has set up the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOMC) to run the country. The NPOMC warned late on Thursday night that social media sites would be shut down if they were used to spread rumours or incite unrest.

But until Friday afternoon, General Prayuth had not gone to see King Bhumibol Adulyadej for a royal endorsement of his coup d'etat - something he would have to do in order to keep any legitimacy.

The general has however scheduled a briefing at 4pm local time (5pm Singapore time) for the foreign diplomatic corps, amid a chorus of concern and condemnation from the international community.

Meanwhile, small anti-military groups have scheduled meetings, despite a ban on gatherings of more than five people. However, enforcement of martial law on the streets appeared to be still light. Schools remained closed across Bangkok, and shopping malls and the train system are due to close early, in time for the 10pm-to-5am curfew.

Still, the iron hand was evident at the army club and when troops cleared the "red shirt" rally on the western edge of Bangkok immediately after the army seized power. Soldiers walked into the area shouting aggressively at "red shirt" supporters to leave.

The army has also sealed off the country's land borders especially with Cambodia, whose premier Hun Sen is a known ally of Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms Yingluck's billionaire brother who has gone into self-imposed exile to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.

The army has banned 155 people including politicians and activists from leaving the country, Reuters reported.

nirmal@sph.com.sg

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