BANGKOK - Thailand's army declared martial law nationwide on Tuesday to restore order after six months of street protests that have left the country without a proper functioning government, but denied that the surprise move amounted to a military coup.
While troops patrolled parts of Bangkok, the caretaker government led by supporters of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was still in office, military and government officials said. Ministers were not informed of the army's plan before the announcement on television at 3 a.m. (4 p.m. EDT on Monday).
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military was taking charge of public security because of violent protests that had claimed lives and caused damage. Nearly 30 people have been killed since the protests began in November last year.
"We are concerned this violence could harm the country's security in general. Then, in order to restore law and order to the country, we have declared martial law," Prayuth said. "I'm asking all those activist groups to stop all activities and cooperate with us in seeking a way out of this crisis."
Prayuth invited directors of government agencies and other high-ranking officials to a meeting at 2 p.m. (3 a.m. EDT), an army spokesman said. Provincial governors and top officials were summoned to meet the army at regional centers.
Both pro- and anti-government protesters are camped out at different places in the capital and, to prevent clashes, the army ordered them to remain where they were and not march anywhere. The army also called on media not to broadcast material that would affect national security and ordered 10 satellite TV channels, including both pro- and anti-government stations, to stop broadcasting.
The caretaker government, wary of the army given its past interventions on the side of the establishment, welcomed the move to restore order. It said it had not been informed but it was still running the country.
"The government doesn't have a problem with this and can govern the country as normal," caretaker Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri, told Reuters.
An aide said caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan had summoned a government meeting at an undisclosed location to discuss the situation.