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Thai army calls crisis talks between deadlocked political rivals

Soldiers provide security at the Army Club in Bangkok, where crisis talks are being held between political factions. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Thailand‘s military has called crisis talks between warring political rivals, vowing to stop the kingdom degenerating into “another Ukraine or Egypt” after imposing martial law to suppress months of street protests.

US-led pressure is growing for a return to civilian rule but the Thai military, which has intervened repeatedly in politics in the past few decades, said it would respect international law and use force “only for issues of security”.

On Wednesday, General Prayuth Chan-ocha called a meeting between leading officials of the ruling and opposition parties as well as the election commission, the senate and the heads of the pro- and anti-government protest camps, an army spokeswoman said.

Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, the acting prime minister, who replaced ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra after a controversial court ruling earlier this month, was also invited.

Niwatthamrong has called for fresh elections on 3 August. But the opposition wants reforms to tackle graft and has vowed to stay on the streets until it has eradicated the “regime” represented by Yingluck’s elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prayuth invoked martial law on Tuesday, saying that he had to act because political tensions had spiralled following anti-government protests – a move critics branded a “de facto coup”.

“This must be resolved swiftly before I retire, otherwise I won’t retire,” said Prayuth, who is due to step down at the end of September, according to a transcript of remarks released by the military. “I will not allow Thailand to be like Ukraine or Egypt.”

In a fresh sign of its weakening hold on power, the caretaker cabinet was barred from using its emergency headquarters at a defence ministry office in the north of the capital.

“The government is now using a safe house,” said a government official who did not want to be named.

The capital, Bangkok, was calm on Wednesday, with Thais going about their business and the city’s bustling street life carrying on amid a noticeably lighter military presence compared with the day before.

But Tuesday’s dispatch of armed troops to the streets, the shutdown of more than a dozen television stations and the sweeping powers assumed by the military have raised concerns about the restriction of civil liberties.

The military can now ban public gatherings, restrict people’s movements, conduct searches, impose curfews and detain suspects for up to seven days.

Late on Tuesday, four more satellite television stations were ordered to suspend broadcasts, bringing to 14 the number shut down.

Social media and other websites were instructed to halt the distribution of “provocative” material or criticism of martial law.

The military also issued an order that appeared to ban media outlets from interviewing anyone other than current government or military officials.

Thailand’s longtime ally the US said it did not believe the army had staged a coup – avoiding sanctions required under American law – but urged the military to respect democracy.

“The army has stated publicly that it would be a temporary action. We expect them to abide by their commitment,” state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

She said the US was “encouraging calm, encouraging protection of civil liberties and freedom of speech and freedom of media”.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, issued a statement urging “full respect for democratic principles and engagement in democratic processes”, while the European Union called for “a clear timetable” for a snap election.

The generals intervened after nearly seven months of protests that have left 28 people dead and hundreds wounded.

The army has left the caretaker government in place. Yingluck’s brother Thaksin was himself ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup.

Parties led by Thaksin or his allies have won every election over the past dozen years, to the dismay of an entrenched Bangkok-based elite who accuse him of corruption and posing a threat to the monarchy.

Source: The Guardian

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