Prayuth launched his coup after rival factions refused to give
ground in a struggle for power between the royalist establishment
and a populist government that had raised fears of serious violence
and damaged the economy.
Soldiers detained politicians from both sides when Prayuth announced
the military takeover, which drew swift international condemnation,
after talks he was presiding over broke down.
The military summoned ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to a
meeting and then banned her and 154 others, including politicians
and activists, from leaving the country.
Prayuth also summoned hundreds of civil servants and told them he
needed their help.
"I want all civil servants to help organize the country," he said.
"We must have economic, social and political reforms before
elections. If the situation is peaceful, we are ready to return
power to the people."
Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire
telecommunications tycoon turned politician who won huge support
among the poor but the loathing of the royalist establishment,
largely over accusations of corruption and nepotism. He was ousted
as premier in a military coup in 2006.
Yingluck arrived at the army facility at noon, a Reuters witness
said. Prayuth was there at the same time but there was no
confirmation they had met.
After Prayuth had left, nine vans with tinted windows were seen
leaving but it was not clear if Yingluck was in one of them or where
they were going. An aide to a minister in the ousted government who
declined to be identified said some people, including his minister,
had been detained.
A former aide to Yingluck said she been out of telephone contact for
The military has censored the media, dispersed rival protesters in
Bangkok and imposed an nationwide 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Yingluck was forced to step down as prime minister by a court on May
7 but her caretaker government, buffeted by more than six months of
protests, had remained nominally in power, even after the army
declared martial law on Tuesday.
Prayuth was expected to meet King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the royal
palace in Hua Hin, south of Bangkok, to explain the army's move.
The armed forces have a long history of intervening in politics -
there have been 18 previous successful or attempted coups since
Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
STUDENTS SHOW OPPOSITION
Bangkok was calm and life appeared normal, although the military
ordered all schools and universities to stay closed.
But there were some signs of opposition to the takeover.
Small groups of students in Bangkok and Chiang Mai held up signs
denouncing the coup and supporting democracy, according to witnesses
and pictures posted on social media.
Regular television schedules were suspended with all stations
running military announcements interspersed with footage from the
army's channel. It showed sites, now cleared, that had been taken
over in and around Bangkok by political groups since anti-government
protests flared in November.
Other footage showed people going about their business in different
places with some saying they welcomed the coup.
International news channels were off the air and the military
threatened to block provocative websites.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there had been no
justification for the coup, which would have "negative implications"
for ties with its ally, especially military ones.
"The path forward for Thailand must include early elections that
reflect the will of the people," Kerry said in a statement.
[to top of second column]
He also called for the release of detained politicians.
There was condemnation from France, the European Union and the U.N.
human rights office. Countries including Singapore and South Korea
advised citizens against travel to Thailand.
The military briefed diplomats on Friday though some declined the
invitation, apparently as a gesture of disapproval.
Prayuth is a
member of the royalist establishment generally seen as hostile to
the Shinawatras, although he tried for months to keep the army out
of the strife and to appear even-handed.
He enjoyed cordial relations with Yingluck after she took office
following a landslide election victory in mid-2011 but is regarded
warily by some Thaksin supporters.
The army chief, who is 60 and due to retire later this year, has
taken over the powers of prime minister but it was not clear if he
intended to stay in the position.
An undercurrent of a crisis that is dividing rich and poor is deep
anxiety over the issue of royal succession. King Bhumibol, the
world's longest-reigning monarch, is 86 and spent the years from
2009 to 2013 in hospital.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same devotion as
his father, but some Thaksin supporters have recently been making a
point of their loyalty to the prince.
MARKET REACTION MUTED
The anti-Thaksin protesters had demanded electoral changes that
would end the Shinawatras' success at the ballot box. Thaksin or his
parties have won every election since 2001.
Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters were dismayed and angry but said
they had no immediate plans for protests. Those who had been
protesting in Bangkok dispersed peacefully after the coup.
But many political analysts were predicting tension and violence.
Protests would be a major test for Prayuth, who commands an army
known to contain some Thaksin sympathizers.
In 2010, more than 90 people were killed in clashes, most when the
army broke up protests against a pro-establishment government that
had taken office after a pro-Thaksin administration was removed by
the courts in 2008.
Investors have generally taken Thailand's upheavals in their stride
and the market reaction to the coup was muted.
The baht was, at around 32.60 per dollar, firmer than its low point
on Thursday of 32.70. The stock market opened down 2 percent but
rallied to end 0.6 percent lower.
Thailand's economy contracted 2.1 percent in the first quarter of
2014 largely because of the prolonged unrest, which has frightened
off tourists and dented confidence, bringing fears of recession.
(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat, Aukkarapon
Niyomyat and Bangkok bureau; Writing by Robert Birsel and Alan
Raybould; Editing by Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.