Thailand's army declares martial law, denies coup

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Thailand's army declares martial law, denies coup
Thai Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha prays during the military anniversary's 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province on August 21, 2014. Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha (C) salutes while reviewing a guard of honour as part of the military anniversary at 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province on August 21, 2014. Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha (C) salutes while reviewing a guard of honour as part of the military anniversary at 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province on August 21, 2014. Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha holds flowers during the military anniversary's 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province on August 21, 2014. Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha (C) salutes while reviewing a guard of honour as part of the military anniversary at 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province on August 21, 2014. Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha adjusts his cap during the military anniversary's 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province on August 21, 2014. Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha waves before leaving after attending 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province on August 21, 2014. Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai soldiers parade during the military anniversary's 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province on August 21, 2014. Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha walks during the military anniversary's 21st Infantry Regiment in Chonburi province on August 21, 2014. Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai police major General Naiyawat Phadermchit speaks to the media outside Lat Phrao police station in Bangkok on August 19, 2014. Thai authorities said that they were testing the DNA of a Japanese man at the centre of a 'baby factory' scandal to determine if he is the biological father. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 24: Protesters confront soldiers in riot gear blocking the route of an anti-coup march on May 24, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Thai capital has seen several anti-coup rallies since the military seized control on May 22. Thailand's ruling military has declared martial law that bans public assembly and imposes a night-time curfew. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 24: Thai army soldiers are briefed by an officer before deploying to an anti-coup rally on May 24, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Thai capital has seen several anti-coup rallies since the military seized control on May 22. Thailand's ruling military has declared martial law that bans public assembly and imposes a night-time curfew. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 24: People gather to make anti-coup protest in Bangkok, Thailand on 24 May, 2014. Soldiers do not intervene protestors although anti-coup protest is forbidden in Thailand. (Photo by Vinai Dithajohn/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 24: Thai military wear riot shields as tensions increase during an anti-coup protest on the second day of Thailand's military coup May 24, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand's coup leaders they will continue to detain former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, along with Cabinet members and other anti-government protest leaders for up to a week. Thailand has seen many months of political unrest and violence which has claimed at least 28 lives. Thailand is now experiencing it's twelfth coup with seven attempted previous coups. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 24: Protesters holds signs during an anti-coup protest on the second day of Thailand's military coup May 24, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand's coup leaders they will continue to detain former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, along with Cabinet members and other anti-government protest leaders for up to a week. Thailand has seen many months of political unrest and violence which has claimed at least 28 lives. Thailand is now experiencing it's twelfth coup with seven attempted previous coups. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 24; Thai protesters fight with police and military trying to arrest them during an anti-coup protest on the second day of Thailand's military coup May 24, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand's coup leaders they will continue to detain former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, along with Cabinet members and other anti-government protest leaders for up to a week. Thailand has seen many months of political unrest and violence which has claimed at least 28 lives. Thailand is now experiencing it's twelfth coup with seven attempted previous coups. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
An anti-coup protester is taken away from the site of a gathering by Thai soldiers in Bangkok on May 24, 2014. Thailand's military will detain former premier Yingluck Shinawatra and ousted government leaders for up to one week, the army said on May 24, tightening its grip over the country following a coup that has provoked an international outcry. AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 22: A woman uses a phone to capture Thai army soldiers securing the grounds of the venue for peace talks between pro- and anti-government groups on May 22, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army chief announced in an address to the nation that the armed forces were seizing power amid reports that leaders of the opposing groups attending the talks were being detained by the military. Thailand has seen months of political unrest and violence which has claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 22: Press pose for a portrait with Thai army soldiers standing guard at the grounds of the venue for peace talks between pro- and anti-government groups on May 22, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army chief announced in an address to the nation that the armed forces were seizing power amid reports that leaders of the opposing groups attending the talks were being detained by the military. Thailand has seen months of political unrest and violence which has claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
Thai soldiers stand guard after army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha met with anti-government and pro-government leaders at the Army Club in Bangkok on May 22, 2014. Thailand's army chief announced in an address to the nation on Thursday that the armed forces were seizing power after months of deadly political turmoil. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai Army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha (C) speaks next to Navy chief Narong Pipatanasai (L) and Air Chief Marshal Prajin Jantong (R) during a press conference at the Army Club in Bangkok on May 20, 2014. Thailand's army declared martial law after months of deadly anti-government protests, deploying armed troops in central Bangkok and censoring the media but insisting the move was 'not a coup'. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: Thai army soldiers stand guard on a city centre street after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
Thai army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha gives a traditional greeting to delegates prior to a meeting at the Army Club in Bangkok on May 20, 2014. Thailand's army declared martial law after months of deadly anti-government protests, deploying armed troops in central Bangkok and censoring the media but insisting the move was 'not a coup'. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha gives a traditional greeting to delegates during a meeting at the Army Club in Bangkok on May 20, 2014. Thailand's army declared martial law after months of deadly anti-government protests, deploying armed troops in central Bangkok and censoring the media but insisting the move was 'not a coup'. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: Thai army soldiers stand guard outside the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: A Thai army soldier stands guard outside the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: Thai army soldiers patrol the offices of the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: Passersby photo Thai army soldiers standing guard on a city centre street after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: View of a gun mounted on a Thai army vehicle as soldiers stand guard on a busy city centre street after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: Thai army soldiers stand guard on a city centre street after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: Passersby pose for a photo with Thai army soldiers standing guard on a city centre street after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: A foreign tourist poses for a photo as Thai army soldiers stand guard on a city centre street after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: Thai army soldiers stand guard on a city centre street after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 20: A Thai army officer briefs soldiers standing guard outside the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
Royal Thai Army soldiers keep watch from a military vehicle while stationed outside the Royal Thai Police headquarters as traffic drives past in central Bangkok, Thailand, on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Thailand's army imposed martial law nationwide after months of political turmoil that brought down an elected leader and tipped the economy into a contraction. Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Thai army soldiers take a break from checkpoint near where pro-government ''Red shirts'' have been rallying for days on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 20, 2014. Thailand's army declared martial law across the deeply divided kingdom on May 20 to restore order after months of deadly anti-government protests, deploying armed troops in the capital but insisting the move was 'not a coup'. AFP PHOTO/ Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai army soldiers take a break at a checkpoint near where pro-government ''Red shirts'' have been rallying for days on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 20, 2014. Thailand's army declared martial law across the deeply divided kingdom on May 20 to restore order after months of deadly anti-government protests, deploying armed troops in the capital but insisting the move was 'not a coup'. AFP PHOTO/ Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
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BANGKOK (AP) - Thailand's powerful army declared martial law before dawn Tuesday, deploying troops into the heart of Bangkok in a dramatic move it said was aimed at stabilizing the Southeast Asian country after six months of turbulent political unrest. The military, however, insisted a coup d'etat was not underway.

The surprise operation, which places the army in charge of public security nationwide, came amid deepening uncertainty over the nation's fate and one day after the caretaker prime minister refused to step down in the face of long-running anti-government protests.

Although soldiers entered multiple television stations to broadcast the army message, life in the vast skyscraper-strewn metropolis of 10 million people remained largely unaffected, with schools, businesses and tourist sites open and traffic flowing as usual.

On a major road in front of one of the country's most luxurious shopping malls, bystanders gawked at soldiers in jeeps mounted with machine guns who briefly diverted traffic. The mood wasn't tense; passers-by stopped to take cell phone pictures of the soldiers.

Thailand, an economic hub for Southeast Asia, has been gripped by off-and-on political turmoil since 2006, when former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. His overthrow triggered a power struggle that continues to this day and in broad terms pits Thaksin's supporters among a rural majority in the north and northeast against a conservative establishment in Bangkok and the south.

The army, which is seen by many as sympathetic to anti-government protesters, has staged 11 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. But it made no moves Tuesday to dissolve the country's constitution or its current, caretaker government.

Acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan - who was not consulted beforehand on the army move - called an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the situation at an undisclosed location.

In a brief statement, Niwattumrong said only that the government hopes the military action will "bring peace back to the people of every group and every side."

Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang, however, said in a post on his Facebook page that martial law was not an answer and warned it could "eventually spiral into a situation in which the military has no choice but to stage a coup."

Thailand's problems are "fundamentally political problems that must be solved through political processes under democracy ... not military or security measures," Chaturon said.

The military statement was issued Tuesday by army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who cited a 1914 law that gives the authority to intervene during times of crisis. He said the military took action to avert street clashes between political rivals which he feared "could impact the country's security."

"The Royal Thai Army intends to bring back peace and order to the beloved country of every Thai as soon as possible," he said. We "intend to see the situation resolved quickly."

Prayuth later called a meeting Tuesday afternoon with senior officials from government agencies, provincial governors and representatives from the country's independent agencies - but not the Cabinet.

The latest round of unrest started last November, when demonstrators took to the streets to try to oust then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister. She dissolved the lower house of parliament in December in a bid to ease the crisis, and has led a weakened, caretaker government with limited powers since then.

Earlier this month, the Constitutional Court ousted Yingluck and nine Cabinet ministers for abuse of power. But the move, which left the ruling party in charge of government, did little to resolve the conflict.

Competing protests in Bangkok have raised concerns of more violence, which were heightened by anti-government protesters who set a Monday deadline for achieving their goals of ousting the remnants of the government.

An overnight attack last week on the main anti-government protest site left 3 dead and more than 20 injured. It raised the toll since November to 28 dead and drew a strong televised rebuke from the army chief.

"This week looked ominous," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "There was a strong likelihood of violence and turmoil."

"Martial law is intended to impose peace and order, but the key will be the army treatment of the two sides," Thitinan said. "If the army is seen as favoring one side over the other, then we could see the situation spiral and deteriorate. If the army is seen as even-handed ... we could actually see the situation improving."

Throughout the morning, the army issued multiple edicts. In one, they asked TV and radio stations to be on standby to interrupt programming for army broadcasts when asked.

At least 10 politically affiliated private TV stations from both sides ceased broadcasting - after armed soldiers entered and requested they do so.

The leader of the pro-government Red Shirt movement, Jatuporn Prompan, said his group could accept the imposition of martial law, but said they "won't tolerate a coup or other non-constitutional means" to grab power.

"We will see what the army wants," he said, warning that the undemocratic removal of the country's caretaker government "will never solve the country's crisis and will plunge Thailand deeper into trouble."

Red Shirts had been massing for days on the outskirts of Bangkok, and Jatuporn said his supporters were being "surrounded." More than 100 soldiers deployed near the rally venue with coils of barbed wire to block roads; they appeared to be taking over control of the area from police and rumors spread they would conduct a raid in search for weapons.

Brad Adams, Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, said denounced the army move, calling it "a de facto coup."

"The military has pulled a 100 year old law off the shelf that makes the civilian administration subordinate to the military, effectively rendering the executive, legislative and judicial branches powerless," Adams said.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the U.S. was "very concerned about the deepening political crisis in Thailand."

We "urge all parties to respect democratic principles, including respect for freedom of speech," she said. "We expect the Army to honor its commitment to make this a temporary action to prevent violence, and to not undermine democratic institutions."

On Monday, Thailand's acting prime minister insisted his government will not resign, resisting pressure from a group of senators who are seeking ways to settle the country's political crisis, and from anti-government protesters who are demanding an appointed prime minister.

A group of about 70 senators, most of whom are seen as siding with the anti-government protesters, proposed a framework on Friday that calls for a new interim government with full power to conduct political reforms.

The Senate, the only functioning legislative body in the country, was seen as the last resort of the anti-government protesters, who are calling for an interim, unelected prime minister to be chosen.

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