* Army chief says takeover needed to restore order
* Had urged rivals to agree compromise solution
* Military suspends constitution, announces night-time
* Rival protest camps ordered to disperse
* Market analysts expect sell-off, say may not be severe
(Updates with army summoning former PM Yingluck and 22 others)
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK, May 22 Thailand's army chief, General
Prayuth Chan-ocha, seized control of the government in a coup on
Thursday, two days after declaring martial law, saying the
military had to restore order and push through reforms after six
months of turmoil.
The military declared a 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. curfew,
suspended the constitution and detained some politicians. It
later summoned former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and 22
others, including relatives and ministers in her ousted
Rival protest camps were ordered to disperse and media
censored. There were no reports of violence.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no
justification for a coup, which would have "negative
implications" for ties. The United States was reviewing its
military and other assistance, "consistent with U.S. law".
Thailand is locked in a protracted power struggle between
supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and
opponents backed by the royalist establishment that has
polarised the country and battered its economy.
"In order for the situation to return to normal quickly and
for society to love and be at peace again ... and to reform the
political, economic and social structure, the military needs to
take control of power," Prayuth said in a televised address.
The general made his broadcast after a meeting to which he
had summoned the rival factions, with the aim of finding a
compromise to defuse anti-government protests.
But no progress was made and Prayuth wound up the gathering
by announcing he was seizing power, according to a participant.
The Thai 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,
most recently when Thaksin was deposed in 2006.
Hundreds of soldiers surrounded the meeting at Bangkok's
Army Club shortly before the coup announcement and troops took
away Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the anti-government protests.
Some political party leaders were also detained, witnesses
Prayuth, who has for months been trying to keep the army out
of the political confrontation, assumed the powers of the prime
SHOTS FIRED INTO AIR
Soldiers fired shots into the air to disperse thousands of
pro-government "red shirt" activists gathered in Bangkok's
The military detained one of the leading activists, a
spokesman for the group said, and the protesters later left
peacefully, many of them in vehicles provided by the military.
The army also ordered television and radio stations to halt
programmes and broadcast its material, and banned gatherings of
more than five people. It said it would block websites that
spread false information or incited unrest.
The army had declared martial law on Tuesday, saying it was
necessary to prevent violence. Twenty-eight people have been
killed and 700 injured since the anti-government protests
erupted late last year.
"Martial law may have been to test the waters; the army gave
the opposing camps a chance to negotiate a way out, but I think
the endgame was always the military taking over," said Kan
Yuanyong of the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank.
"The possibility of conflict is now much higher," he said.
"Thaksin will fight back."
Former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin has lived in
self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid a jail term for graft,
but commands the loyalty of legions of poor voters and exerts a
huge influence over politics, most recently through his sister's
He was not available for comment but a pro-Thaksin activist
in his hometown of Chiang Mai said there was no immediate plan
"As of now we will not head to Bangkok, no plans. We will
follow today's situation closely first," said Mahawon Kawang.
Kerry said he was disappointed and concerned by reports that
political leaders had been detained, and called for their
"This act will have negative implications for the U.S.-Thai
relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai
military," he said in a statement.
The Pentagon said it was reviewing its military assistance
and engagements, including an ongoing exercise involving about
700 U.S. Marines and sailors.
Under U.S. law, no foreign aid may flow to a country whose
duly elected head of government is deposed in a coup, but the
language of the law gives the Obama administration some latitude
in how to interpret it.
There was condemnation from France, the European Union and
the United Nations human rights office. Japan said the coup was
regrettable and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said
she was "gravely concerned".
Bangkok's streets were largely empty at curfew time. Some
tourists, unaware of the coup, wondered why the bars were
"EVERYONE MUST SIT STILL"
In a first round of talks on Wednesday, Prayuth had called
on the two sides to agree a compromise based on the appointment
of an interim prime minister, political reforms, and an
election. But both sides stuck to their entrenched positions.
On Thursday, after announcing his coup to the two sides'
representatives, he told them, "Everyone must sit still,"
according to one participant who declined to be identified.
Leaders of the ruling Puea Thai Party and the opposition
Democrat Party, the Senate leader and the five-member Election
Commission were in the talks.
Yingluck was forced to step down as premier by a court two
weeks ago, but her caretaker government limped on.
Thailand's economy shrank by 2.1 percent in January-March
from the previous three months, largely because of the unrest,
adding to fears that it is stumbling into recession.
But weary investors have generally taken Thailand's
political upheavals in their stride, and analysts said the
impact on markets in Southeast Asia's second largest economy
might not be too severe.
The anti-government protesters want to rid Thailand the
influence of Thaksin, who they say is a corrupt crony capitalist
who commandeered a fragile democracy and used taxpayers' money
to buy votes with populist giveaways.
They had wanted a "neutral" interim prime minister to
oversee electoral reforms before a new vote.
The government said a general election was the best way
forward. Thaksin or his parties have won every election since
(Additional reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa, Martin Petty and
Bangkok bureau; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alan
Raybould, Alex Richardson, Mike Collett-White and Kevin Liffey)