Sakchai Lalit/AP

Thai military detains Yingluck

Army chief blocks ousted prime minister and 154 others from leaving country, urges civil servants to push reforms

Thailand's military rulers detained former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Friday after summoning her for talks a day after the army overthrew her government in a coup, a senior military officer said.

"We have detained Yingluck, her sister and brother-in-law," a senior military officer told Reuters. The two relatives have held top political posts.

"We will do so for not more than a week. That would be too long,” said the officer, who declined to be identified. “We just need to organize matters in the country first."

The unnamed officer declined to tell Reuters where Yingluck was being held, but media said she was at an army base in Saraburi province, north of Bangkok.

In what appeared to be a coordinated operation to neutralize opposition to the coup, the military summoned Yingluck to a meeting and then barred her and 154 others, including activists and other politicians, from leaving Thailand.

Thai army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha then set out his plans for the country on Friday, saying reforms were needed before an election could be held and enlisting the help of the civil service.

"I want all civil servants to help organize the country," he said. "We must have economic, social and political reforms before elections. If the situation is peaceful, we are ready to return power to the people."

Prayuth launched the coup after rival factions refused to give ground in a struggle for power between the royalist establishment and a populist government. The standoff raised fears of serious violence and damaged the economy.

Soldiers detained politicians from both sides when Prayuth announced the military takeover, which drew swift international condemnation.

Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon turned politician who won huge support among the poor but the loathing of the royalist establishment, largely due to accusations of corruption and nepotism. He was forced out as premier in a military coup in 2006.

Yingluck arrived at the army facility at noon, a Reuters witness said. Prayuth was there at the same time, but there was no confirmation that they met.

After Prayuth left, nine vans with tinted windows were seen leaving, but it was not clear if Yingluck was in one of them or where they were going. An aide to a minister in the ousted government who declined to be identified said some people, including his minister, had been detained.

Since the coup, the military has censored the media, dispersed protesters from both factions in Bangkok and imposed a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

A court forced Yingluck to step down as prime minister on May 7, but her government had remained nominally in power, even after the army declared martial law on Tuesday.

Prayuth was expected to meet Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the royal palace in Hua Hin, south of Bangkok, to explain the army's move to the intensely revered and long-ailing monarch.

Thailand’s armed forces have a long history of intervening in politics, with at least 18 previous successful or attempted coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Signs of opposition

The military has ordered all schools and universities to stay closed, and on Friday there were some signs of opposition to the takeover.

Several hundred people gathered in Bangkok’s main shopping district to protest, confronting a swarm of armed solders with the chant “Get out, dictators!” according to The New York Times. The protest was organized through Facebook, the newspaper said, and some had symbolically taped their mouths shut.

Also, small groups of students in Bangkok and Chiang Mai held up signs denouncing the coup and supporting democracy, according to witnesses and pictures posted on social media.

Regular television schedules were suspended, with all stations running military announcements interspersed with footage from the army's channel. It showed sites, now cleared, that had been taken over in and around Bangkok by political groups since anti-government protests flared in November.

Other footage showed people going about their business in different places, with some saying they welcomed the coup.

International news channels were off the air, and the military threatened to block provocative websites.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no justification for the coup, which would have "negative implications" for ties with its ally, especially military ones. "The path forward for Thailand must include early elections that reflect the will of the people," Kerry said in a news release.

He also called for the release of detained politicians.

There was also condemnation from France, the European Union and the U.N. human rights office. A number of countries, including Singapore and South Korea, advised citizens against travel to Thailand.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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