- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. is suspending $3.5 million in military aid to Thailand, its first punitive step against the Asian country following a military coup, the State Department announced Friday.

Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the department is still reviewing a further $7 million in direct U.S. assistance to Thailand, and an undetermined amount of aid from other global and regional programs.

The department on Friday also recommended Americans reconsider any non-essential travel to Thailand, particularly Bangkok, due to political and social unrest and restrictions on movement, including a nighttime curfew.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced the review hours after Thursday’s military takeover in Thailand, a U.S. treaty ally and close military partner. Kerry said Thursday there was no justification for the coup and urged the immediate restoration of civilian government and a return to democracy.

Harf said the suspended programs pay for weapons sales and training for military officers.

Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. Raymond Odierno spoke with his Thai counterpart, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the coup leader, by phone late Thursday and held a “constructive conversation,” said Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby.

“The general made it clear that we certainly expect a return to democratic principles in Thailand just as soon as possible,” Kirby said.

But the declaration of the coup has underscored the limited leverage the U.S. has with Thailand, despite their longstanding ties.

After the military declared martial law on Tuesday, Washington had urged an early return to democracy and free and fair elections, only for Prayuth to abruptly seize power.

The new junta consolidated its control Friday.

Ousted members of the former government surrendered and soldiers forcefully dispersed hundreds of anti-coup activists who defied a ban on large-scale gatherings to protest the army’s action.

After Thailand’s last military coup in 2006, the U.S. suspended programs for a year-and-a-half, totaling more than $29 million, according to the Congressional Research Service. Some programs deemed to be in the U.S. interest continued.

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