Thailand’s army chief took control of the country in a military coup, after detaining leaders of rival political groups at a meeting meant to find a solution to the nation’s six-month political crisis.
Two days after declaring martial law and saying there was no coup, Army Chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha announced on national television alongside senior military officials that he was seizing control in order to restore peace.
“To restore peace back to the country in a short time and to reform the country’s politics, economy and society, the Thai military, army, navy, air force and police have seized power from May 22 onward,” Prayuth said. “All people should remain calm and live their lives as normal. All government officials continue to work in line with their regulations and what they have done before.”
Thai military and political leaders met this afternoon to discuss possible resolutions to the nation’s governance crisis. The military used several trucks to block the entrance and exits of the complex where the meeting was held. The leader of the anti-government protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, was escorted into an army compound nearby. Feeds from television stations showed just a blue screen and the military logo.
The baht weakened 0.3 percent against the U.S. dollar following the announcement, after strengthening as much as 0.4 percent earlier today. The announcement of the coup came after the close of trading on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, with the benchmark SET Index rising 0.2 percent to 1,405.21.
The military has carried out almost a dozen coups since the end of direct rule by kings in 1932, with three governments overthrown since 2006 by the army or judicial action. The latest putsch risks international sanctions and may extend almost a decade of unrest that has sapped growth in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
Anti-government protesters are demanding an unelected council run the country to wipe out the influence of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, overthrown this month, whose parties have won the last five elections. Government supporters, also protesting in Bangkok, have vowed to fight any such move.
Yingluck dissolved parliament and called fresh elections in December in a bid to end the protests, which began in opposition to an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return to Thailand. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and fled abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption handed down by a military- appointed court.
“We are approaching the end game to the political crisis,” said Alan Richardson, whose Samsung Asean Equity Fund beat 96 percent of peers tracked by Bloomberg in the past five years.
“The stock market could fall tomorrow on knee-jerk reaction to heightened perceived political risk, but it should be an opportunity to start buying near the point of maximum pessimism,” he said by phone from Hong Kong.
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