Thailand’s army declared martial law in the country early Tuesday morning, saying it hoped to quell violent protests aimed at ousting the temporary government. The military denied that it was staging a coup d’etat.
The move follows six months of protests in Thailand. Last week one protest left three people dead and over 20 injured. This continuing violence raised the death toll to 28 since November.
The unrest started last year as an attempt to depose then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra who was removed from power during a coup in 2006. Yingluck responded to the protests by dissolving the lower house of parliament in December but the move did little to ease the crisis.
Yingluck was removed from power earlier this month by Thailand’s Constitutional Court for abuse of power. Following last week’s deaths, officials feared the situation could escalate.
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"This week looked ominous," Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, told the Associated Press. "There was a strong likelihood of violence and turmoil.”
The military seized control of television stations in the country and Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha read a statement to citizens over the air asking them not to panic.
Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri said that martial law was merely intended to restore order and that the interim government was still running the country.
"Security matters will be handled solely by the military, and whether the situation intensifies or is resolved is up to them," he said. "There is no cause to panic. Personally, I welcome the move.”
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Paul Quaglia, of Bangkok-based risk assessment firm PQA Associates, described the situation to CNN as "martial law lite.”
"The military is taking a step-by-step, gentle approach to see if they can get things to improve," he said. "If not, they'll of course have to ratchet up their actions.”
Even if that happens, Quaglia says long-term intervention by the military can do little to fix the political problems in the country.
Protesters say they are seeking to install a new government without an election. They argue that widespread corruption within the opposition Democrat Party makes a fair election impossible.
This makes the path to a resolution unclear.
"The differences are stark, and I don't think the military can step in and by force fix the political issues,” Quaglia said.