BANGKOK - Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha abruptly announced yesterday that he was seizing power and suspending the nation's Constitution - paving the way for the appointment of a new premier, in a military coup that will be hugely controversial and likely trigger more turmoil in Thailand.
The military arrested a dozen -odd political leaders, ordered TV networks to stop regular programming, cut links to foreign TV networks, and declared a nationwide 10pm to 5am curfew.
The junta established a "National Peace and Order Maintaining Council" and ordered all remaining caretaker Cabinet ministers to report to it today.
The move came barely three days after the army declared martial law in the name of preventing more violence, as the country's political conflict remained deadlocked. It is the 12th military coup since Thailand changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
General Prayuth, a staunch royalist notorious for his hawkish views, abruptly announced that he was taking power, as political factions around the table at a second day of talks at the Royal Thai Army Club seemed unwilling to compromise.
Within seconds, the government delegation at the talks was detained.
The team, however, did not include acting caretaker prime minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, who had declined to attend the talks.
A spokesman for the prime minister in a text message said he was "safe", but there was no indication of his whereabouts.
Pro-government "red shirt" leaders there, including Mr Jatuporn Promphan, Mrs Thida Thawornseth and Mr Natthawut Saikua, were detained, as were leaders of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), including Mr Suthep Thaugsuban, who had been campaigning to drive the caretaker Puea Thai government out of office, and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Representatives of the Senate and the Election Commission were allowed to leave.
Singapore's Foreign Ministry expressed "grave concern" over the developments in a statement.
Across town on the western edge of Bangkok, soldiers moved in on the pro-government red shirt rally site to clear it. There were reports of shots fired, but no news of any casualties.
Eyewitnesses said thousands of red shirt supporters were dispersing in tears and anger.
Senior red shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn was detained by army officers on the stage.
Troops also dispersed anti-government PDRC supporters from their sprawling, fortified camp in the heart of Bangkok, bringing buses for them to board and leave.
It is the second time a military intervention has dislodged a government of, or backed by, billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra since the then premier was kicked out of office by the army in 2006 on grounds of corruption and disrespecting the monarchy.
Thaksin is deeply distrusted by Thailand's old money conservative elites, who see him as a corrupt demagogue with designs to replace the monarchy at a time when revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, is in his twilight years.
This article was first published on May 23, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.