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Thai coup leaders summon academics, journalists

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- In a chilling move apparently aimed at neutralizing critics and potential opposition, Thailand's new army junta on Saturday ordered dozens of outspoken activists, academics and journalists to surrender themselves to military authorities.

The junta, which is already holding most of the government it ousted in a coup Thursday in secret locations against their will, said it would keep former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and others in custody for up to a week to give them "time to think" and keep the country calm.

Two days after the army seized power in the nation's first coup in eight years, it also faced scattered protests that came amid growing concern over the junta's intentions. Also Saturday, the military dissolved the Senate - the last functioning democratic institution left, and absorbed its legislative powers.

"Military rule has thrown Thailand's rights situation into a free fall," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The army is using draconian martial law powers to detain politicians, activists and journalists, to censor media, and to ban all public gatherings. This rolling crackdown needs to come to an end immediately."

At least 100 people, mostly top politicians, have been detained incommunicado so far. Deputy army spokesman Col. Weerachon Sukondhapatipak said they were all being well-treated and the military's aim was to achieve a political compromise.

Weerachon said all those held have had their cellphones confiscated because "we don't want them communicating with other people. We want them to be themselves and think on their own."

"This is because everybody involved in the conflict needs to calm down and have time to think," Weerachon said. "We don't intend to limit their freedom - it's to relieve the pressure."

In a military order broadcast at the start of the day, the junta summoned 35 more people, including politicians, political activists and, for the first time, outspoken academics and some journalists.

One of those on the list, Kyoto University professor of Southeast Asian studies Pavin Chachavalpongpun, said by telephone from Japan that he would not turn himself in. He said the summons meant the junta felt insecure.

"The military claiming to be a mediator in the Thai conflict, that is all just nonsense," said Pavin, who is frequently quoted by foreign media as an analyst. "This is not about paving the way for reform and democratization. We are really going back to the crudest form of authoritarianism."

In the evening, the junta broadcast its sixth official order, for a single journalist: Pravit Rojanaphruk, an outspoken columnist for the English-language daily The Nation, who was summoned to report to the army at 10 a.m. Sunday. In a tweet Saturday night, Pravit was defiant, saying "the more they exercise their illegitimate power the more illegitimate they become."

The junta also ordered banks to freeze the assets of two top politicians it had summoned but who remain in hiding, including the ousted education minister and the chief of the former ruling party.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who leads the junta, has justified the coup by saying the army had to act to avert violence and end half a year of political turmoil triggered by anti-government protests that killed 28 people and injured more than 800.

The intractable divide plaguing Thailand today is part of an increasingly precarious power struggle between an elite, conservative minority backed by powerful businessmen and staunch royalists based in Bangkok and the south that can no longer win elections, and the political machine of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters in the rural north who backed him because of populist policies such as virtually free health care.

The army deposed Thaksin in a 2006 coup. And on Friday, it detained his sister, Yingluck, who was forced from office earlier this month by a controversial court verdict for abuse of power, which she denies.

The ruling party, which rose to power in a landslide election in 2011 that was deemed fair, had insisted for months that Thailand's fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts and, finally, the army which together had rendered it powerless, step by step.

Although Thailand has been calm since the coup and there is little military presence on the streets, small-scale protests against the junta have been reported in the northern city of Chiang Mai and the beach resort city of Pattaya, south of Bangkok.

In the capital, life largely went on as normal. But hundreds of anti-coup protesters took to the streets for a second straight day, defying an army-imposed edict banning groups larger than five from gathering for political purposes. They shouted slogans demanding a return to civilian rule and waved signs outside a cinema complex before moving on to Victory Monument, a major city landmark several kilometers (miles) away.

The demonstrators briefly confronted rows of soldiers and police lined up with riot shields on a road leading to the monument, with a few scuffles breaking out before most of the protesters broke away. By late afternoon, about 500 demonstrators had gathered at the moment. Army and police presence was low key, and the groups dispersed before a 10 p.m. curfew came into effect.

Several demonstrators have been detained, and rights groups have expressed concern over the growing repression.

"This is a dangerous precedent - people simply expressing opinions must not be penalized," said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific Director. "The need for the military to exercise restraint is particularly crucial given that demonstrations calling for civilian rule could intensify."

The army launched the coup after ordering two days of brief peace talks in which the country's political rivals failed to end their deadlock. Anti-government protesters had been calling for the army to intervene and support their bid to overthrow the government, which they accused of corruption, since November.

Multiple nations have condemned the coup. The U.S. State Department urged "the immediate restoration of civilian rule and release of detained political leaders, a return to democracy through early elections, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Washington also said it had canceled ongoing military exercises, and a firearms training program for the Thai police. Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said U.S. law and "our own democratic principles" require the U.S. to reconsider its long military relationship with the Southeast Asian country.

The Pentagon is also canceling the June visit of U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris to Thailand and is withdrawing the invitation to the commander general of the Royal Thai Armed Forces to visit U.S. Pacific Command in June, Kirby said.

Underscoring the challenges facing Thailand's new rulers, police on Saturday said suspected Islamic insurgents detonated at least nine bombs in the country's restive south, killing two people and wounding at least 52. Pattani provincial police chief Phote Suaisuwan said the blasts hit four 7-11 convenience stores, two gasoline stations and three other locations.

It was unlikely that the blasts were related to the coup, though insurgents may have been emboldened by the dramatic development. More than 5,000 people have been killed since the insurgency flared in 2004 in Thailand's predominantly Muslim south.


Associated Press writers Kay Johnson, Grant Peck and Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.

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patriot1too May 24 2014 at 5:31 PM

Message to Americans. Do not ever give up your right to bear arms and defend yourself from the corrupt govorment or others who seek to destroy America and take away our constitution.. The media has dumbed down America for so long that too many have become mindless drones who except anything that some know nothing liberal extremisit or hollywood tells them. Wake up America. It could happen here. The fox is in the hen house so to speak. We have a trojan horse president. God bless America.

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24 replies
beemerboxer May 24 2014 at 5:03 PM

Men and women in our own nation should be very aware that such a thing could happen here. We have a core of people just itching to make it happen.

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8 replies
patriot1too May 24 2014 at 5:41 PM

And our own little obama mess will say nothing and do nothing. He only comes out of the wood work is someone says the n word then he makes some grand speech and stabs the air with his little manacured fist. What a mistake he has been. Wake up America. Watch yourself this could happen in America with this awful govorment more concerned with political correctness then real issues.

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9 replies
revivalman May 24 2014 at 6:35 PM

As the military coup in Thailand rounds up and detains dissenters, Richard Bennett, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific Director, said: "This is a dangerous precedent - people simply expressing opinions must not be penalized." Really? What an interesting and democratic-sounding concept. Yet right here in America, conservatives who express their personal opinions about race, religion, politics, homosexuals, gay marriage, abortion, climate change....you name it......are being criticized, ostracized, browbeaten, and even physically threatened by liberal bullies who disagree. Worse yet, the media, which is largely supportive of big government, leads the attack.

The American people should be very careful of the direction they are headed, and very worried about what might await them.

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3 replies
khonesan May 24 2014 at 5:36 PM

The military coup came in the rescue the country from being bankrupted and collapsed from corrupted politicians from the redshirt party. Thaksin Regime had stole billions of dollars from the country. The Thai farmers have not recieved the money from subsidy program in the last 7 months. 14 Famers have committed suicide and million families have not recieved their money. The government had done a terrible jobs in running the country. When there are found guilty of passig thebills unconstitutionally, the refused to accept the rulling. This is an internal affair and if you don't know the whole situation, please do not making fun of it. You don't want to have a government that runs the country into a toilet and not accept resposibility, don't you?

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9 replies
chuck May 24 2014 at 6:07 PM

8 years. thats how long america has been under dictatorship and police state.

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11 replies
leearlenew May 24 2014 at 4:40 PM

It can happen here and maybe it should,

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5 replies
p.mine1 May 24 2014 at 5:30 PM

This is precisely what has to happen here as long as things remain as they are !!!!!

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3 replies
ROCCOXYZ May 24 2014 at 4:59 PM

no jesus no freedom

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4 replies
sttlkng1 May 24 2014 at 11:53 PM

Politics and strife in Thailand is not new.

People have died. The Government is not being responsive. The military took over to calm things down. Let the Thais work things out.

I remember an old story from my first thrip to Thailand in '86. There was the usual political wrangling going on. It reached crisis stage. The King got in full dress regalia. Got on a magnificient white horse, fully decorated. He left the palace gate. He rode around the palace and back in the gate. It was all a symbol. In Thailand, the King is/was revered like a God. He sent a message. The rival parties went into backrooms and compromised. In a day, all differences were settled. Maybe the military is doing just that.

Lets watch a few days and see how it goes. And meanwhile, keep the meddling west out of it. They already screwed up Ukraine. Lets not make it two in one year.

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