BANGKOK – Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha summoned ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to a meeting on Friday, a day after he seized power in a bloodless coup and said he wanted to restore order following months of turmoil.
General Prayuth launched his coup after the rival factions refused to give ground in a struggle for power between the royalist establishment and a populist government that had raised fears of serious violence and damaged the economy.
Soldiers detained politicians from both sides when Prayuth announced the military takeover, which drew swift international condemnation, after talks he was presiding over broke down. Leaders of pro- and anti-government protest groups were still believed to be in detention, said an opposition lawmaker who declined to be identified.
The military banned 155 people, including politicians and activists, from leaving the country. The military also censored the media, dispersed rival protesters in Bangkok and imposed a nationwide 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. It then called Yingluck and 22 associates, including powerful relatives and ministers in her government, to a meeting at an army center in the capital.
Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon turned politician who won huge support among the poor but the loathing of the royalist establishment, largely over accusations of corruption and nepotism. He was ousted as premier in a military coup in 2006.
Yingluck arrived at the army facility at noon, a Reuters witness said. Prayuth was there at the same time but there was no confirmation of whether they had met and if they had, what was discussed. Prayuth later went to another army compound to which other officials in the ousted government had been summoned.
Yingluck was forced to step down as prime minister by a court on May 7 but her caretaker government, buffeted by more than six months of protests, had remained nominally in power, even after the army declared martial law on Tuesday. The meeting with Yingluck could set the tone for army rule as Prayuth tries to steer the country out of crisis and fend off international criticism of the latest lurch into military rule.
Later on Friday, Prayuth was expected to meet King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the royal palace in Hua Hin, south of Bangkok, to explain the army's move. The armed forces have a long history of intervening in politics - there have been 18 previous successful or attempted coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, most recently in 2006.
Bangkok was calm and life appeared normal, although the military ordered all schools and universities to stay closed. Regular television schedules were suspended with all stations running military announcements interspersed with footage from the army's channel. It showed sites, now cleared, that had been taken over in and around Bangkok by political groups since anti-government protests flared in November.
Other footage showed people going about their business in different places with some saying they welcomed the coup. International news channels were off the air and the military threatened to block websites that carried false or provocative material.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said there had been no justification for the coup, which would have negative implications for ties with its ally, especially military ones. "The path forward for Thailand must include early elections that reflect the will of the people," Kerry said in a statement. He also called for the release of detained politicians.