05/20/2014, 00.00
THAILAND
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Thai army imposes martial law, censors media as stock market crashes

The military say they made the decision to "preserve law and order", to ensure national security. They claim it is not a coup. Three pro- government TV channels and the main opposition broadcaster blocked. Stock markets crash amid fears for the future of the national economy

Bangkok ( AsiaNews / Agencies) - In an attempt to halt a spiralling political crisis that has held Thai politics hostage for months, today the army imposed martial law in order to "preserve law and public order".

The surprise announcement gives broad powers to the military to ensure provisions are applied. High ranking officials claim the move is aimed at ensuring national stability and strongly deny that it is an attempted coup, as was the case on more than one occasion in the past.

The imposition of martial law is perhaps the tipping point of an ongoing political and institutional crisis and an escalation of tension since an interim executive took over from the ousted government of Yingluck Shinawatra and anti-government protesters ( the yellow Shirts ) loyal to the monarchy and close to the financial and economic elite of the capital. The protests have so far left at least 28 people dead and hundreds injured.

The security adviser to the Prime Minister says that the government was not consulted. Paradorn Pattanatabut emphasizes that there is nothing abnormal, because in fact the military is ultimately responsible for "all matters relating to national security". The army claim that the decision to impose martial law will have no impact on the interim government that is tasked with steering the country until the next election and that it will continue to remain in office.

Analysts and Thai policy experts report that the imposition of martial law is dictated by the need to stop " malicious groups using weapons of war", even though they admit surprise in timing. The military will patrol the streets, sensitive areas , government buildings and meeting places, such as the squares used in the past by the pro - Thaksin "Red Shirts " during the demonstrations against the Democrat government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva in 2010.

Meanwhile, the army censored major national media , suspending transmissions of various TV channels . A decision dictated by the desire to provide the population "correct and unbiased information" to avoid an " exacerbation of the conflict". The blacked out channels include three radio stations close to the government of the "Red Shirts" and the main satellite television channel close to the anti-government protesters ( Blue Sky TV).

In the interim, stock markets are already showing the effects of the announcement with the index registering its biggest losses in the last two weeks. The local currency, the baht, had recovered after a sharp decline but behind the turnaround seems the work of the Central Bank. The SET Index recorded - 0.9%. Moreover in previous weeks, analysts and economists had warned that a power vacuum would undermine the economy of one of the most prosperous nations in the area and a model of democracy and development for the Asian continent.

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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