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Thai military holds meeting with key parties after declaring martial law

By Kocha Olarn and Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 5:13 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Representatives of pro- and anti- government groups are attending the meeting
  • The army chief has said he wants to resolve the political crisis through dialogue
  • Human rights activists criticize the use of martial law
  • The country has been hit by protests and the recent removal of a prime minister

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- A day after declaring martial law, the Thai military is holding a meeting Wednesday with key parties involved in the political unrest that has beset the country for the past six months.

The deep-seated tensions in Thailand have in recent months caused deadly clashes, paralyzed parts of the capital city and brought down a prime minister.

Thai army imposes martial law
Thai anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngamanong, center, gestures as he arrives escorted by police and soldiers at a military court in Bangkok on Thursday, June 12. The prominent anti-coup figure faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted of incitement, computer crimes and ignoring a summons by the junta, police said. The Thai military carried out a coup May 22 after months of unrest had destabilized the country's elected government and caused outbursts of deadly violence in Bangkok. Thai anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngamanong, center, gestures as he arrives escorted by police and soldiers at a military court in Bangkok on Thursday, June 12. The prominent anti-coup figure faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted of incitement, computer crimes and ignoring a summons by the junta, police said. The Thai military carried out a coup May 22 after months of unrest had destabilized the country's elected government and caused outbursts of deadly violence in Bangkok.
Military coup in Thailand
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Photos: Military coup in Thailand Photos: Military coup in Thailand

The military, which has a long history of interfering in Thai politics, stepped into the fray Tuesday with its sudden declaration that it was stepping in, a move it carried out without giving any warning to the acting prime minister.

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Military officials denied that their intervention, which has deepened uncertainty over the country's future, was a coup. But human rights activists warned that the imposition of martial law is a major step away from democracy and lacks safeguards.

Troops took up positions at key intersections in Bangkok and outside the offices of TV stations. The military said that all of the country's radio and television stations must suspend their normal programs "when it is needed."

But daily life continued without major disruptions across many parts of the capital. By Wednesday, military vehicles had left some areas where they'd been stationed a day earlier.

Tensions escalate in Thailand

Military as mediator

An aide to acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan described the declaration of martial law as "half a coup d'etat."

The army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, said at a news conference Tuesday that he wanted "all political parties" to start a dialogue aimed at ending the protracted political crisis, saying the military "won't allow any bloodshed."

"We cannot keep having" conflict, Prayuth said. But he wouldn't say when martial law would end.

The general has placed himself in the role of mediator between two deeply opposed camps: the Bangkok elites who have supported demonstrations against the party of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the pro-government red shirt movement whose large support base is strongest in the north and northeast of Thailand.

Among those invited the meeting Wednesday are the chairman of the election commission, the acting senate house speaker, the leader of the governing Pheu Thai party, the leader of the opposition Democrat Party, the leader of the anti-government protesters and the leader of the red shirts.

Top officials began arriving Wednesday afternoon at the venue for the talks, the Army Club in Bangkok.

Months of instability

Thailand has been hit by a series of bouts of political unrest over the past decade.

The current phase of turmoil was triggered in November by Yingluck's botched attempt to pass an amnesty bill that would have allowed the return of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, another former prime minister who lives in exile and polarizes opinions in Thailand. Thaksin was deposed by a military coup in 2006.

Groups opposed to the government seized on the amnesty bill furor and began large-scale protests in central areas of Bangkok.

In an attempt to defuse the tensions, Yingluck called an early election. But the Democrat Party boycotted the February election, and Yingluck's opponents blocked voting in enough districts to prevent a valid outcome.

The leaders of the anti-government demonstrators say that elections, which the Shinawatra family's populist Pheu Thai party is highly likely to win, aren't the way to resolve the crisis. They say they want the establishment of an unelected "people's council" that would oversee political changes.

Yingluck, who first took office in 2011 stayed on after the disrupted election as a caretaker prime minister. But the Constitutional Court forced her from office two weeks ago, finding her guilty of violating the constitution over the appointments of top security officials. Yingluck has denied breaking the law.

Her removal from office has angered the red shirts, who say they see it as a judicial coup.

Large protest camps by pro- and anti-government groups remain in different areas of Bangkok.

READ MORE: Thailand wakes to martial law: What it means

READ MORE: Army declares martial law, government wasn't informed

READ MORE: Newly-crowned Miss Universe Thailand in hot water over 'red shirts' remarks

CNN's Kocha Olarn reported from Bangkok, and CNN's Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Paula Hancocks, Ashley Fantz and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

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