A full military coup was underway in Thailand on Thursday as the country’s army chief declared he was taking control from rival political groups and imposing an overnight curfew.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha made the announcement in a televised broadcast carried on all TV channels at 5 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET), shortly after an unsuccessful meeting of rival factions aimed at finding a solution to six months of anti-government protests.
Soldiers fired into the air to disperse thousands of pro-government "red shirt" activists gathered at a protest site in Bangkok's western outskirts. At least one of the protest leaders was detained, said a spokesman for the activists, Thanawut Wichaidit.
At one rally site near a building housing the seat of government, protesters heeded troops calls to go home and dispersed for the first time since Thailand's political crisis erupted six months ago, according to The Associated Press.
The full takeover comes after the army declared martial law on Tuesday to restore order, but insisted then that the move was not a coup.
Prayuth said the takeover would not affect international relations. Later, the army announced it had suspended the country's constitution.
Thai television stations were reportedly showing no programming, but international stations including CNN and BBC World were available as normal.
A senior army official said troops and vehicles would be used to escort rival protesters away from their rally sites in separate locations in Bangkok.
"We will send troops and vehicles to help protesters leave all rally sites," General Teerachai Nakwanit, First Regional Army Commander, told Reuters.
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A nationwide overnight curfew was imposed, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time (11 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET), the Associated Press reported.
Thailand has seen at least 18 actual or attempted coups since 1932, when the country became a constitutional monarchy.
Talks to find a solution to the political impasse ended on Wednesday without success. As protests have become more violent, the army has repeatedly urged political groups to resolve the situation, even though it has in the past been more sympathetic to the yellows.
The red shirts want an early election, which they would almost certainly win. Rival yellow shirts sabotaged the last attempted vote and have threatened to do the same next time.
The trigger point for this week's intervention may have been a grenade attack which killed three anti-government protesters and injured 22 others.
The U.S. Embassy in Thailand did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published May 22 2014, 3:08 AM