05/26/2014, 00.00
THAILAND
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King Bhumibol legitimizes the military coup, but the country remains divided

As has become praxis, the 86 year old monarch has confirmed support for the army chief. Objective to maintain "peace and order" , introducing the necessary reforms in order to proceed to a new election. AsiaNews sources: Yellow and Red camps remain polarized, the army’s reforms are to ensure greater military control over the next election

Bangkok (AsiaNews ) - The Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej today declared his support for the head of the Armed Forces, officially legitimizing last week's coup last week with which the army put an end to a political stalemate that has lasted months in the Asian country.

In the Army headquarters, General Prayuth Chan-ocha - Chief of the Armed Forces and mastermind of the coup - was officially named (during a ceremony without the presence of the 86 year old monarch) as the head of the nation.

On May 20, the military declared martial law, imposed media censorship and after 48 hours, assumed control of the nation in a coup. This came after the latest round of talks between the various political factions ended in a stalemate once again.

The anti-government protests have resulted in the deaths of nearly 30 people and hundreds injured; However, the military's decision to carry out a the coup has drawn criticism from the international community led by the United States and the UN. Over the weekend in Bangkok small groups of supporters of former Prime Minister Shinawatra demonstrated against the military operation , in spite of the ban on gatherings of five or more persons issued by the authorities.

Analysts and experts in Thai politics report that the army's decision to oust the government, take power and introduce martial law will not help to heal the wounds and divisions between the country's Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts.  These divisions, they say, are likely to widen. Speaking today as he assumed control of the nation, the head of the Armed Forces has stressed that the primary objective is to "maintain peace and order".  He added that the elections will be held as soon as possible, without outlining certain dates.

In the last few hours the army has released former Prime Minister Yingluck, detained in the aftermath of the coup for talks with the military. Although free, she is still under the strict military supervision and is required to report her every move. The leader of the Yellow Shirts Thaugsuban Suthep, who led street protests for months, has also been released. He must answer charges of insurrection, but was released on bail.

A diplomatic source for AsiaNews in Bangkok, speaking on conditions of anonymity, says that "the king's support of the military action is a formality", as has happened in the past at other coups. The army has "taken possession" of the key areas of political and institutional life of Thailand, chocking off normal activities in the country while "Yellow and Red Shirts remain polarized, each on their respective positions".

Today, schools and offices are open, there is an "apparent calm", says the diplomat , and in the outlying areas of the capital , "the presence of the soldiers is minimal". However , press and TV must abide by a strict censorship and the military "are letting very little leak through, we just have to wait and see what happens".

The head of the Armed Forces said that the situation "will not last long", but no-one can make any predictions.  However, it seems plausible that the military will meddle with the Constitution , to ensure "a greater military presence and control of Parliament," with the next election, which must be organized "within a relatively short period of time". " The Thais have always been patient towards coups - concludes the source - but this time there is a critical mass of people who are more informed and which includes not only students or intellectuals as was the case in the past . And this ends up putting greater pressure on the military".

From 1932 to today, the Thai military has carried out at least 12 coups, the most recent of them last week. This has dealt a harsh blow to the national economy, already rocked by heavy losses on the stock market.  The tourism sector is particularly worrying with tourist flows down by 5% in the first months of 2014 compared to last year . The growth of gross domestic product (GDP) first projected at between 3 and 4%, has fallen to 1.5/2.5%.

The political and institutional crisis in the second largest Asian economy worsened in December, when the Prime Minister Shinawatra dissolved parliament and called for early elections. Detractors accused her of being a " puppet" in the hands of her brother Thaksin, a multibillionaire -in-exile to escape a two-year jail sentence for corruption.  In early May, a court ordered the removal of the Prime Minister and nine ministers for abuse of power; Shinawatra is also under investigation for her subsidy scheme for rice production which has caused a billion dollar hole in the state budget . Opponents want political reforms and new elections "to end the Thaksin regime".  However, since 2001, the Shinawatra family has consistently dominated polls drawing on broad popular support in the north and northeast.

 

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