- - Thursday, May 22, 2014

BANGKOK — The Royal Thai Army chief staged a coup Thursday, telling the public not to panic as he suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, rounded up political leaders and set up a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew two days after imposing martial law.

In conducting his second bloodless coup in eight years, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said he isn’t taking sides in Thailand’s monthslong political crisis, even though his takeover meets one of the demands of protesters who want to install an appointed board of technocrats to run the country and implement reforms before elections are held.

This Southeast Asian nation is a non-NATO ally of the U.S., whose laws require cancellation of military and other aid when a country’s democratically elected government is overthrown.

“I am disappointed by the decision of the Thai military to suspend the constitution and take control of the government after a long period of political turmoil, and there is no justification for this military coup,” said Secretary of State John F. Kerry, adding that the coup will have “negative implications” for U.S.-Thai relations.

The State Department said it was reviewing the millions of dollars it provides annually to Thailand. During Thailand’s 2006 coup, the U.S. suspended military aid for more than 18 months until democracy was restored.

In a nationally televised address, a grim Gen. Prayuth said he seized power because “the violence in Bangkok and many parts of the country that resulted in loss of innocent lives and property was likely to escalate.”

He was referring to protests over the past six months in which 28 people have been killed and more than 800 injured.

“We ask the public not to panic and to carry on their lives normally,” said the general, flanked by representatives of the U.S.-trained military.

Troops rounded up and detained protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and his colleague, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, as well as leaders of the Red Shirt group, which backs the democratically elected government of recently ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The military also ordered acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan to surrender “to keep peace and order.”

Uniformed soldiers armed with assault rifles dispersed rank-and-file supporters of both groups from city streets.

“In order to run the country smoothly, [we have] suspended the constitution of 2007, except for the chapter on the monarchy,” the military said in a later TV broadcast.

The military helped write that 2007 constitution after its 2006 coup in order to reduce the power of elected politicians and strengthen appointed courts and other unelected institutions.

Eleven of 18 coup attempts have succeeded in Thailand since the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Ms. Yingluck is a sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in the 2006 coup. He has lived in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year prison sentence for a corruption conviction.

Ms. Yingluck, who has been called her brother’s “puppet,” dissolved the lower house of parliament in December in a bid to ease the crisis and later led a weakened, caretaker government.

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

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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