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 organizations with a
central role in the crisis to talk.
Issues raised during the meeting included how to reform 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
Thailand has been riven by rivalry between populist former Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the royalist establishment for
nearly 10 years.
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, on the other hand, 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
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
Military sources say Prayuth is believed to favor the appointment of
an interim prime minister by the Senate, who would then shepherd
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.
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General Prayuth said he had imposed martial law to restore order,
and the caretaker government says it is still running the country.
"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 University.
He said Prayuth needed to convince everyone with a stake in the
outcome of the need for "reforms before and after elections".
"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
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 "democratic principles".
"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
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 politics.
But for most residents and visitors, life went on largely as normal.
"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."
(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Robert
Birsel and Alan Raybould; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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