Thailand coup: Thai junta to receive royal approval as protests continue

US Secretary of State and protesters on the streets of Bangkok call for the immediate restoration of democracy

Bangkok

The Thai general who launched the coup and seized power is to due to receive official approval from the country’s king as the junta seeks to cement its position amid mounting protests and criticism.

Reports said Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha would receive a royal command, formally appointing him head of the so-called National Council for Peace and Order, the name the junta has given itself. The oddly precise time of 10.49am has been fixed for the ceremony, raising speculation that this is considered an auspicious moment on the clock.

The approval from Thailand’s ailing, 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej would mark the final outstanding box to be ticked by Gen. Prayuth, who has forced out the government, detained politicians and academics and dissolved the upper house of the parliament. He has also transferred senior police and investigative personnel as the junta’s grip has tightened. Several journalists are being detained, among them Pravit Rojanaphruk, a leading columnist with The Nation newspaper.

The announcement from the junta came as small groups of anti-coup protesters continued to demonstrate in Bangkok, carrying placards and shouting at troops blocking their way to “go home”. The protests have so far been modest in size, but demonstrators have been using social media to organise locations and routes.

 

At Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong intersection, a 65-year-old woman called Pranwee said was determined that the soldiers back down and restore democracy.

A supporter of the ousted government, headed by the Phua Thai party of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, she had been among protesters who had seized control of the busy intersection four years ago to demonstrate against the previous administration. More than 90 people were killed. “In my life, I cannot count the number of times there has been a coup,” she said.

Read more: Does Thailand’s democracy have a future?

At one point, the army used loud-speakers and played military songs in an apparent attempt to move the protesters. One of the songs contained the words “we are all Thai people together”. When the song was played, the protesters hissed.

Later, the protesters moved to the city’s Democracy Monument where the demonstrations continued. It appeared that while perhaps 1,000 or so demonstrators were carrying signs and chanting, many of the onlookers may also have supported the protest too.

The protesters were breaking orders from the junta that no more than five people gathered together without permission. Yet, while there were some scuffles with the soldiers and while the mood was tense, no-one appeared to have been seriously hurt in Sunday’s protests.

“This is the coup. How can they shut off our ears, our mouths, our breathing,” said Kitty Limb, a retired government employee who had travelled from the town of Hua Hin, two hours away, for the protest. “I don’t know how to get back democracy. But if everybody comes and fights for democracy we will shame the junta. I have no weapons.”

The international criticism of the junta has been swift. The US, an important partner of the Thai military, announced it was suspending military aid and pulling out of an exercise. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for the prompt restoration of civilian rule and the release of the more than 100 people who have been detained, among them former premier Yingluck Shinawatra, the brother of Mr Thaksin. The US has also called for “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

A spokesman for the junta claimed that democracy had  brought losses for Thailand. “For international issues, another difference is that democracy in Thailand has resulted in losses, which is definitely different from other countries and which is another detail we will clarify,” said army spokesman Col Winthai Suvaree, according to the Associated Press.

Thailand has been reeling from political turmoil since Mr Thaksin was ousted in a previous coup in 2006. Since then, several governments allied with him have been elected but have been ousted by a controversial court set up after he was pushed out. His sister, Ms Yingluck, was elected in 2011 but forced out by the same court two weeks ago.

The political divisions tearing at the fabric of Thailand are complex, and have a number of factors. Many of the people who support Mr Thaksin say policies helped raise their standard of living. That has coincided with growing awareness of both their political rights and their political power.

By contrast, many of those who led protests against the government over the last six months and which were used by the military as an excuse for their actions, want to reduce the use of elections and have appointed leaders instead. Many of these protesters are business people from Bangkok and the establishment that surrounds the monarchy.

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