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Thai anti-coup protest escalates

Anti-coup protests are growing in Bangkok despite a junta ban on gatherings of more than 5 people.

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Bangkok: Thailand’s coup-makers have announced they will set up military courts to prosecute offences against the monarchy and national security in a widening crackdown on dissent.

The junta declared those prosecuted in the courts would include people who defy military rule, as it stiffened warnings against anti-coup protests that have been growing across Bangkok.

Up to 2000 protesters have defied a ban on gatherings of more than five people.

Thai soldiers confront anti-coup protesters in Bangkok.

Thai soldiers confront anti-coup protesters in Bangkok. Photo: Getty-Images

Thailand’s Law Education for People says it is unusual for civilians to be tried in military courts where they are given no right to appoint a lawyer or to file a suit with the court.

Military prosecutors act as their legal representatives.

The order proclaiming the establishment of the military courts was signed by coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha and took immediate effect.

Under Thailand’s lese majeste laws, people convicted of insulting the monarchy face long jail sentences.

Thailand’s 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej has given his endorsement formalising General Prayuth’s status as head of the junta command called the National Council for Peace and Order.

The king’s blessing is traditionally sought to legitimise Thailand’s recurring military takeovers.

Dressed in white uniform General Prayuth on Monday said the king had  endorsed him to run the country. He told his first press conference since seizing power he had to act after increasingly violent confrontations between rival groups.

‘‘The most important thing right now is to keep peace and order in the country,’’ he said. ‘‘When the conflict intensified and there was the threat of violence we had to act.’’ 

As more prominent Thais were summoned and taken away to secret locations, the army hinted it was ready to  take a tougher line against protesters who have angrily confronted lines of armed combat troops, shouting, “Get out, get out.”

“I want fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to warn their families that there is no benefit in coming out to oppose [the coup],” said army spokesman Winthai Suvaree.

Colonel Winthai warned that in cases of clashes in which losses or injury occured, no compensation could be claimed because the country is under martial law.

“Please understand that everyone is carrying out their duties to make the country peaceful,” he said.

General Prayuth, 60, has moved to defend his actions amid an international outcry over the coup, which has prompted the United States to cut military aid and co-operation to its close ally.

The military “sought to bring back happiness to all Thai people”, General Prayuth said in a statement.

“We would like to urge co-operation from all civil servants and police to b e patient, sacrifice and accept the principle of ridding the country from conflict,” he said.

“Otherwise, we will become a failed state and no one will be happy.”

The junta has summoned 30 more prominent Thais to an army complex, including businessmen and academics seen to be allied with anti-government protesters.

Previously it threw out the country’s 2007 constitution, dissolved parliament and imposed sweeping censorship.

There has been a widespread purge of top bureaucrats and police officers. 

The Bangkok Post reported that a purge of the heads of state enterprises is expected to be the junta's next step.  

More than 100 prominent Thais who had earlier reported to the military were taken away to undisclosed locations, cut off from their families.

They included deposed prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Among the latest group of people ordered to surrender was Pravit Rojanaphruk, a senior reporter with Bangkok’s The Nation.

The newspaper’s editor-in-chief called on the junta to respect freedom of expression and the right for people to have access to information, but stopped short of criticising Mr Pravit’s detention.

The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand called for the release of detained journalists and the lifting of media restrictions.

Also on a list to be called in was Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, the ex-wife of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Most of those detained were seen as being aligned with Mr Thaksin, a divisive figure in Thai politics who still wields enormous influence despite living in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

General Prayuth’s statement said those who had surrendered were being treated well. “There is no imprisonment or torture at all,” he said.

Detainees wanted on arrest warrants would be handed over to police for prosecution.

Suthep Thaugsuban, a veteran politician who led six months of anti-government protests, and four other leaders of his group were released from military detention on Monday and reported to the office of attorney general to face insurrection charges.

Outside Bangkok there are reports of isolated anti-coup protests and arrests of red shirt activists who support the deposed government and Mr Thaksin.

The junta has deployed troops on to the streets of Chiang Mai, a stronghold of pro-government red shirts who have vowed to oppose the coup.

Mr Thaksin said in a tweet that “as an elected PM” he was “saddened” by the “tragic events caused by another coup” and called on those detained to receive fair treatment.

There are confusing reports on the whereabouts of Ms Yingluck, Mr Thaksin’s younger sister. 

Some Thai media reported she had been released but others said this was unconfirmed. Ms Yingluck is on a list of at least 155 people who are barred from leaving the country.

With his red shirt power base and the former ruling Pheu Thai party in disarray, the options for Mr Thaksin appear to be severely limited.

The junta said it was taking legal action against Mr Thaksin’s legal adviser Robert Amsterdam, who said on his website some states had offered to host a government in exile.

Reuters quoted Chaturon Chaisang, a former education minister, as saying from an undisclosed location that he doubted the red shirt movement would be able to regroup and fight against the takeover as they had vowed because their leaders were being held.

He said the coup was unlike others in Thailand’s recent history because the army was stamping out dissent, muzzling the media and deploying swift measures to arrest anyone with potential to disrupt their rule.

Mr Chaturon, a politician aligned with Mr Thaksin, was quoted as telling Reuters he did not want to stay underground and “neither do I plan to join any rebellion against the coup-makers”.

“This must be resolved by peaceful means,” he said.