Soldiers walk near a checkpoint on a highway in Thailand's
Ayutthaya province. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Thailand's rival political factions would not agree to
stop street protests during crisis talks aimed at ending the
confrontation a day after the army declared martial law, a
pro-government activist said.
Although the military denied Tuesday's surprise intervention
amounted to a coup, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha
appeared to be setting the agenda by forcing groups and
organisations with a central role in the crisis to talk.
Issues raised during the meeting included reforming the
political system - a demand made by anti-government
protesters - and ending the demonstrations that have sparked
violence, disrupted business and scared off tourists.
"When asked whether each group can stop protesting, there was
no commitment from either side," Thida Thawornseth, a leader
of the pro-government "red shirt" political group, told
Reuters. "There was no clear conclusion."
Puchong Nutrawong, secretary-general of the Election
Commission, who was also at the talks, said all sides would
meet again on Thursday.
"The army chief asked us to go back home and think about the
things we discussed in order to find a solution for the
country," Puchong told Reuters.
Thailand has been riven for nearly 10 years by the rivalry
between populist former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and
the royalist establishment.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire who won the
loyalty of the rural and urban poor, has lived in self-exile
since 2008 but still exerts a huge influence, most recently
through a government run by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
Yingluck was forced to step down as premier by a court two
weeks ago, but her caretaker government remains in power,
despite the declaration of martial law and six months of
sometimes violent protests aimed at ousting it.
The turmoil has driven the country to the brink of recession
and even raised fears of civil war.
"HOMEWORK HANDED OUT"
The anti-government protesters are opposed to an election,
which Thaksin's loyalist would be likely to win. They want a
"neutral" prime minister installed to oversee electoral
reforms aimed at ending Thaksin's influence.
The government sees a general election as the best way
forward and has proposed a new vote on August 3. The
anti-government protesters disrupted an election in February
that was later annulled, and they have vowed to do so again.
Whether all sides could accept an interim prime minister and
what reforms could be implemented were also raised at the
talks, Thida said.
An army spokesman said all sides would go away to think.
"There was no conclusion. It is as though homework was handed
out for each side to work on," deputy army spokesman Winthai
Suvaree told reporters.
Military sources say Prayuth is believed to favour the
appointment of an interim prime minister by the Senate, who
would then shepherd through reforms.
The United States, a close ally of Thailand and its military,
said it was "encouraged" by reports that the meeting had
taken place, although State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki
added: "Obviously, there is a great deal more work that needs
to be done."
"Broadly speaking, we believe that dialogue between the
parties is a positive step," she told a regular briefing.
"We continue to be troubled by restrictions on the media,"
Psaki added. "In our communications with the Royal Thai Army,
we are encouraging them to respect democratic principles,
including freedom of speech and the press."
Washington has stressed the need for the army to honour its
commitment to make martial law temporary and Psaki reiterated
that the United Stated wanted to see a return to full
Twenty-eight people have been killed and 700 injured since
this latest chapter in the power struggle between Thaksin and
the royalist elite flared up late last year.
Both pro- and anti-government protesters remain out in force,
but the army has confined them to their separate protest
sites and there were no reports of trouble overnight.
General Prayuth said he had imposed martial law to restore
order, and the caretaker government says it is still running
"Certainly, it's not an outright military coup by definition
because the caretaker government is still in office, but on
the ground it looks like the military is in charge," said
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn
He said Prayuth needed to convince everyone with a stake in
the outcome of the need for "reforms before and after
"He's taking a lot of risk, Prayuth, because the imposition
of martial law puts him in a very tight spot ... The longer
we do not see a resolution, the riskier it will become for
the army," Thitinan said.
The United States, which cut aid to its military ally after
Thaksin was toppled in the most recent of Thailand's frequent
military coups in 2006, called on the army to respect
"We're watching the situation very closely. We expect that
the Thai army will be true to its word when it says that this
is not a coup and this is just a temporary injunction," said
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.
Thaksin's "red shirt" activists have warned of trouble if the
caretaker government is ousted, but some analysts saw the
appointment of an interim prime minister as most likely,
despite the threat of a backlash.
"With martial law in place, we believe violence could be
contained," Pimpaka Nichgaroon, head of research at
Thanachart Securities, wrote in a note.
The present administration has only limited authority and is
unable, for example, to push through fiscal policies to
support the stumbling economy.
Human rights groups have said the declaration of martial law
was akin to a coup.
The army has ordered 14 satellite TV channels, both pro- and
anti-government, to stop broadcasting and it has warned
against the spread of inflammatory material on social media.
A bookshop in one of the city's glistening malls said it had
been ordered to remove from its shelves eight books on
But for most residents and visitors, life went on largely as
"It hasn't made any difference to me and my plans," said
Tsugio Kurosawa, a Japanese executive on a business trip to
Bangkok, who had been in Indonesia during riots there in the
late 1990s. "This is nothing compared to that."