Thailand’s military junta ordered ousted politicians to a meeting Friday as the U.S. ambassador urged the restoration of civilian rule and the return of the country's television channels.
Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was among 155 political figures told to report to the new National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOMC) – or face arrest. They also faced travel bans.
The diktat came a day after the army seized control of the country in a non-violent coup, saying the move was necessary to bring stability after months of political wrangling and deadlock.
Secretary of State John Kerry said there was “no justification” for the takeover, while the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok issued an emergency message urging Americans in Thailand for business or vacation to exercise caution.
There was virtually no military presence Friday on Bangkok's streets, which were less crowded than usual but still filled with vendors and people heading to work after an overnight curfew, according to The Associated Press.
There were no reports of overnight violence, and no sign that tourists in the country were affected. News of the curfew came as a surprise to many tourists in the city of Chiang Mai but did not appear to disrupt vacationers' plans, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The main indication of military presence was on television, where regular programming was replaced by a static screen showing military crests and the junta's self-declared name: National Peace and Order Maintaining Council. Patriotic music filled air time, interrupted by occasional announcements from military officials.
In defiance of army orders banning all public gatherings, there was a small "Stop The Coup" demonstration in central Bangkok.
The NPOMC issued an announcement about the meeting about noon local time Friday (1 a.m. ET) prohibiting all 155 political figures from leaving Thailand without permission, the Bangkok Post reported. Those who refused to attend would be arrested and prosecuted, council spokesman Col Winthai Suwaree, according to the newspaper.
"We’re very troubled that the press here and the TV stations are not allowed to broadcast"
U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney told CNBC's Sri Jegarajah that Washington would be reviewing cooperation with Bangkok but declined to speculate on whether sanctions would be considered if the country did not return to civilian rule.
“We’ve made it very clear we expect the immediate restoration of the civilian government – also the restoration of press freedoms,” she said. “We’re very troubled that the press here and the TV stations are not allowed to broadcast. We expect these concerns to be addressed immediately.”
The coup was launched Thursday while the military hosted a meeting of political rivals for what was billed as a second round of talks on how to resolve the country's political deadlock.
After two hours of inconclusive talks, armed soldiers detained the participants, including four Cabinet ministers, and army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha appeared on national television to announce the takeover.
Prayuth justified the coup as a necessary move to restore stability and "quickly bring the situation back to normal" amid increasing spasms of violence that together with controversial court rulings had rendered the government powerless and the country profoundly divided between the wealthy urban elite who disdain the Shinawatra family and their supporters among the rural poor majority.
The military suspended the constitution and the Cabinet and banned gatherings of more than five people — a risky bid to end half a year of political upheaval that many fear will only deepen the nation's crisis.
"We're likely to see dark days ahead," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, referring to the possibility of violent resistance from the ousted government's supporters.
A Red Shirt pro-government supporter is arrested by soldiers on the outskirts of Bangkok on Thursday. Thai soldiers began clearing a site where pro-government protesters had been rallying, hours after their commander-in-chief declared a coup.
Traffic was lighter than usual Friday and schools across the country were ordered closed, but life in the bustling metropolis of 10 million people appeared relatively normal. Like any other morning, street vendors set up their food stalls, commuters headed to work and delivery trucks made their rounds.
"At first I was surprised and I thought it would affect my life in many ways but after re-thinking it several times I realize military protection makes me safe," said Bangkok resident Passawara Pinyo.
"I expected it to happen anyway," office worker Montri Chanthasuthi said. "It was just a matter of when."
Thursday's dramatic events were the latest response to a societal schism laid bare after the 2006 coup deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the older brother of Yingluck and a billionaire tycoon whose populist movement has won every national election since 2001. Thaksin lives in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges, but he still wields enormous influence over Thailand's political affairs and remains at the heart of the ongoing crisis.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
First published May 23 2014, 1:59 AM