Army chief stages coup in Thailand

The Thailand Army chief seized power in a military coup on Thursday, ordering rival protesters off the streets and deposing the government in a bid to end months of political bloodshed.

General Prayut Chan-O-Cha made the announcement in a televised address to the nation, saying the powerful armed forces had to act to restore stability in the Southeast Asian nation.

Moments before Gen. Prayut’s stunning announcement, witnesses said they saw leaders of Thailand’s two main political parties and its rival protest movements being taken by the military from a venue where the general had convened talks aimed at resolving their differences. It was unclear if they had been formally detained.

The military summoned the ousted Cabinet to report to the Army.

The tough-talking Gen. Prayut (60) said he seized power because of “the violence in Bangkok and many parts of the country that resulted in loss of innocent lives and property and was likely to escalate.” It is the latest twist in a nearly decade-long political crisis stretching back to an earlier coup in 2006 that deposed the controversial tycoon-turned-politician Thaksin Shinawatra as Premier — a move that infuriated his supporters.

Appeal for calm

“All Thais must remain calm and government officials must work as normal,” Gen. Prayut said in the brief announcement around 5 p.m. (1000 GMT), flanked by four of his top officers.

Rumours of an imminent coup had gripped Thailand since Tuesday, when the Army chief declared martial law to prevent deadly political tensions spiralling out of control.

The overthrow caps months of increasing political tension pitting a Bangkok-based royalist elite and its backers against the democratically elected government aligned to Mr. Thaksin, whose sister Yingluck was dismissed as Premier earlier this month in a controversial court ruling.

Caretaker premier Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who had refused calls to step down, was among those ordered to report to the Army.

U.S. condemns ally

Leaders from U.S., France and U.K., along with U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon condemned the military’s assumption of power and sought restoration of civilian order.

The U.S. warned it was reconsidering cooperation with its ally. Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the coup as having “no justification.” Mr. Kerry urged the restoration of a civilian government, respect for press freedom and “early elections that reflect the will of the people.”