BANGKOK – The Thai army declared martial law throughout the country in a surprise move that an aide to the embattled Prime Minister said the government didn't know about beforehand, CNN reported on Tuesday.
“They took this action unilaterally. The government is having a special meeting regarding this. We have to watch and see if the army chief honours his declaration of impartiality,” the aide said, describing the situation as half a coup d'etat.
Lt Gen Nipat Thonglek told CNN the move was not a coup. “The army aims to maintain peace, order and public safety for all groups and all parties,” a ticker running on the army's television channel said. “People are urged not to panic, and can carry on their business as usual. Declaring martial law is not a coup d'etat.”
Martial law went into effect at 3am on Tuesday, the ticker said. All Thai TV stations are being guarded by the military, Thai public television announced, showing pictures of soldiers and armored vehicles taking positions outside broadcast facilities in the country's capital.
In a statement read on Thai television, the military declared that all of the country's radio and television stations must suspend their normal programmes when it is needed. The dramatic announcements come days after the head of the army issued a stern warning after political violence had surged in the country's capital.
Political tensions have been running high in Thailand. Supporters and opponents of the country's government have staged mass protests in recent days, and earlier this month a top court removed caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office, along with nine cabinet ministers.
It's too soon to tell whether the military's declaration of martial law will ease tensions or heighten them, analysts said. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor, described the situation as very volatile. “This is a precarious time now for the army,” he said. “They have to be even-handed.” He said that violence could escalate rather than cool down if the military appears to be favouring one side.
The government's red shirt support base, many of whom hail from the country's rural north and northeast, view Yingluck's ouster as a judicial coup and has been protesting an unfair bias by many of the country's institutions against their side. Anti-government protesters are seeking a new government, arguing the alleged corruption of their rivals makes widespread reform necessary before any meaningful vote can be held.
“We have grave concerns about the situation in Thailand," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo. “We once again strongly urge all parties concerned to act in a self-restrained manner without using violence. We strongly hope differences among the parties concerned will be settled peacefully through the democratic process.”
Japan is one of Thailand's biggest investors, with several major manufacturers having plants there.