Thailand went under martial as of Tuesday morning, when the country’s army declared the need to “preserve law and order,” after acting Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra defied a court order to resign along with several of her cabinet ministers. The declaration comes after weeks of fierce street demonstrations and clashes between supporters of Shinawatra’s government and an opposition calling for a rewrite of Thailand’s constitution.
The opposition supports an unelected government, saying that corruption in Thailand is too widespread to allow for fair elections.
The court ordered Shinawatra out of office stating that she had abused her power by dissolving the lower house of the Thailand parliament in December. But her supporters, based largely in Thailand’s northern rice farming regions, say her ouster was a “judicial coup.”
In a nationally televised speech last week, a top military leader warned the demonstrators that the military would take over, if the situation on the streets of the Thailand capital streets did not settle.
“If the situation turns more violent, it could lead to riots,” said Army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. “The Army will have to use military forces to resolve the situation for peace and order.”
In its declaration of martial law, which went into effect at 3 am Tuesday in Thailand, the military said that it had not carried out a military coup, though Thailand has seen the military seize power 11 times in the past 72 years. But an aide to Shinawatra, speaking to CNN, said the army’s move came as a shock, and he described it as “half a coup d’etat.”
“They took this action unilaterally. The government is having a special meeting regarding this,” the aide told the network. “We have to watch and see if the army chief honors his declaration of impartiality.”
“The public do not need to panic but can still live their lives as normal,” said the Thailand military in an official announcement. The statement asserted that a law passed in 1914 granted the Thailand army authority to take control in times of political unrest.
Thailand TV broadcast pictures of soldiers surrounding television stations and other broadcast facilities, with tanks moving into place around the buildings as well. Chan-ocha said the clampdown on Thailand broadcast media was to prevent bias from entering news reporting.
The U.S. Embassy issued a warning to U.S. citizens in Thailand, cautioning them to avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place.