BANGKOK - Thailand's opposition protesters have appealed to the army to help topple the government, but chastened by the turmoil they unleashed with a 2006 coup the powerful generals are reluctant to seize power again, observers say.
The kingdom has been convulsed with periodic unrest since the ouster of Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire tycoon whose political rise alarmed the nation's elites who saw him as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.
The army held power for a year after the 2006 takeover, but Thaksin's allies soon secured one of a series of thumping election victories that have frustrated their opponents, who now call for democracy to be replaced with an unelected "people's council".
Anti-government protesters vowing to rid the country of Thaksin's polarising influence have this week stormed the offices of his sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and other symbols of state power, in unrest which has claimed several lives.
As the clashes threatened to get out of hand, the military sent hundreds of unarmed soldiers to support the police and facilitated a meeting between Yingluck and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on Sunday.
But apart from those measures the generals have so far avoided any public return to the political fray and army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha said Tuesday the military would "let this problem be solved by politics".
A senior military source with knowledge of the Sunday meeting told AFP that the heads of the army, navy and airforce refused to throw their support behind the premier.
"None of the three commanders took the government side," said the official, on condition of anonymity. "They said if the government used force, they would stand next to the people."
Thitinan Pongsudhirak from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University said the generals, who seen themselves as defenders of the monarchy, may feel impelled to exert order ahead of Thursday's solemn celebrations for the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.