Damir Sagolj / Reuters

After military warnings, Facebook temporarily blocked in Thailand

Following coup that ousted the Thai government, the military is cracking down on ‘provocative’ material on social media

Access to the social media site Facebook was blocked for many users in Thailand Wednesday, a day after the new military government launched an Internet crackdown — but authorities later blamed the problem on a technical hitch.

The partial blockage began at around 3 p.m., with those being barred flocking to Twitter to report that Facebook was down. But others experienced no problems, and many of those who were blocked were able to log in again by 4:30 p.m.

Thailand’s Information and Communications Technology Ministry said it had blocked Facebook at the request of the military to stem protests. But the military later denied involvement, saying a technical problem was to blame.

The confusion came a week after Thai generals carried out a coup against the government, disbanded the country’s Senate and rounded up senior officials.

It followed months of unrest between anti-government protesters and those loyal to former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra — whom critics accuse of being a puppet for her exiled brother, former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Yingluck was forced to step down earlier this month after being found guilty of abuse of power. Her downfall was followed by the military coup.

Martial law was declared on May 20, with the Thai army announcing the move via Twitter and Facebook.

But since then, the military has issued warnings about the spread of what it considers provocative material on social media. The junta's team of advisers includes a former defense minister, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, and former army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda.

The two men are towering figures in Thailand's military establishment and have close ties to coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. All three are staunch monarchists and helped oust Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister in a 2006 coup.

Hoping to show that things are getting back to normal, the military has relaxed a nighttime curfew it imposed after it seized power, and it is expected to speed up efforts to get the economy moving again after months of debilitating political protests.

Data released Wednesday showed that trade shrank in April and factory output fell for a 13th straight month, underscoring the damage caused by the political unrest — and the tough job the military government faces in reviving an economy on the brink of recession.

The new military junta also ordered all national TV stations to broadcast videos Wednesday showing some of the prominent political figures it had detained, in an effort to convince the public that people in army custody are being treated well.

The videos showed five detainees speaking to army officers at an undisclosed location. The most prominent was Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the "Red Shirts" movement, which had vowed to take action if the military seized power.

Within hours of broadcasting the videos, Jatuporn and four other Red Shirts leaders were released from custody.

"I have no idea where we were because we were blindfolded on the way there and back," said Kokaew Pikulthong, one of the five released. "We were treated OK. It was not fancy, but it was a livable condition."

The army, which still holds in custody several senior officials in the government it overthrew, has summoned 253 people — mostly politicians, scholars, journalists and activists seen as critical of the regime. Roughly 70 are still in custody, about 130 have been released and 53 have failed to show up, a spokesman for the junta, Col. Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, told a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The army takeover, Thailand's second in eight years, deposed an elected government that had insisted for months that the nation's fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts and finally the army.

Wire services

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