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Q&A on Thai military coup

Thailand was under junta rule on Friday after the military removed the civilian government in an overthrow it said was aimed at ending deadly political turmoil.

BANGKOK: Thailand was under junta rule on Friday after the military removed the civilian government in an overthrow it said was aimed at ending deadly political turmoil.

Here are answers to some key questions on the situation:

1. Why now?

The military takeover by commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha came after nearly seven months of political turmoil and coup rumours, although the backdrop is years of political strife and rival street protests.

The military first declared martial law on Tuesday and then seized power two days later after talks between the kingdom's bitter political rivals failed to reach a consensus.

The final straw appeared to be when the caretaker government aligned with ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra -- the arch-enemy of the military-backed royalist elite -- reaffirming its refusal to step down.

The way the coup unfolded, with participants at the talks asked to deposit their mobile telephones at the start and then detained en masse by the military, left the impression that it was carefully choreographed.

"Looking back, it seems that it (a coup) might have been the plan from the beginning," said author and academic David Streckfuss.

The sudden move also raised questions about whether there was a split within the military between supporters of the royalist establishment and soldiers sympathetic to Thaksin.

"The coup means that Prayuth had to consolidate control over the army. There may have been divisions in his support," said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University.

2. Where are the detainees?

While several members of the two main political parties have since been freed, the leaders of the pro- and anti-government protest camps were believed to remain in military custody at an unknown location.

The anti-government movement told its followers in a message on Facebook that its senior members were safe but "under military protection" and likely to remain in the junta's "care" for some time.

Ousted government leaders, including former premier Yingluck Shinawatra, were waiting at a military facility for an audience with the army chief after being summoned by the junta, but it was unclear if they would be detained.

"If the prime minister and many of these personalities are not apprehended, then there would be the threat that they might set up a government in exile," said Chambers.

3. Who's in charge?

All authority in Thailand has been assumed by a "National Peace and Order Maintenance Council" comprised of the leaders of the various branches of the Thai armed forces and the police.

The dominant figure on the council is Prayuth, the chief of Thailand's powerful army who is a staunch royalist and has assumed the powers of the prime minister.

4. What's next?

The army gave no indication of how long military rule might last but offered an indication of what is to come, saying it took power to "start political reform" -- a key demand of opposition protesters.

It also left the upper house of parliament, the Senate, intact despite a suspension of the constitution, giving a hint of the coming process to select a new leader.

Experts expect an interim premier close to the royalist elite to be appointed in the coming days, probably by the Senate.

The new junta government would then run the country for at least one year -- like after the 2006 coup -- during which time a new constitution would be drawn up to curb the political dominance of Thaksin and his allies.

"Elections are not likely before pro-opposition elements within the military and the Thai bureaucracy implement constitutional changes aimed at increasing the powers of institutions sympathetic to the pro-royalist establishment," said Alecia Quah, analyst at the consultancy firm IHS.

The fear is that fresh violence could erupt further if the pro-government "Red Shirts" fight back against the suspension of the kingdom's fragile democracy.

"The removal of the caretaker cabinet is likely to trigger violent protests by the pro-Pheu Thai Red Shirts, who now have no other recourse but to incite violence and destabilise the state," said Quah.

Timeline: Thailand's Political Unrest




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