Thailand’s military has detained a former cabinet minister who defiantly emerged from hiding to condemn last week’s military coup and urge a return to civilian rule.
Chaturon Chaseing, education minister in the government removed last week by the military, resurfaced on Tuesday, making the first public appearance by any member of the ousted government.
About half a dozen soldiers took Chaturon into custody in a chaotic scene at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok, where he had just finished holding a surprise news conference, the Associated Press news agency reported.
The junta, which seized power on Thursday, is already holding most top members of the Southeast Asian country’s elected government and has ordered the rest to surrender.
“A coup d’etat is not a democratic process that the majority of the world, and Thais, do not accept,” Chaturon told a full room of about 100 journalists.
Chaturon said it remained to be seen whether supporters of the ousted government would fight back against the coup.
“Will there be an underground struggle? If the military doesn’t allow [electoral] participation of all and becomes oppressive, then people will go underground,” Chaturon said.
Despite rumours that a government-in-exile was being formed in neighbouring Cambodia, Chaturon said he knew of no such plan.
He had been summoned to appear at a military office, as have hundreds of other Thais, but he had refused.
He contacted the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on Tuesday and called a hasty news conference at 2pm, knowing he would be detained.
“If you want to put me in jail, then put me in jail,” he told the military.
When the news conference was finished and Chaturon was being interviewed by a group of Thai journalists, soldiers entered the room, surrounded him, and escorted him out through a crowd of reporters.
Before being hustled into an elevator, Chaturon said: “I’m not afraid. If I was afraid, I wouldn’t be here.”
The military takeover, Thailand’s second in eight years, deposed a government that had insisted for months that the nation’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts, and finally the army.
The country is deeply split between an elite establishment based in Bangkok and the south that cannot win elections on one side, and a poorer majority centred in the north that has begun to realise political and economic power on the other.
A “coup d’etat is not a solution to the problems or conflicts in Thai society, but will make the conflicts even worse”, Chaturon said.
Chaturon said he told only a few people in advance of his appearance. He said he would not resist arrest or go underground, but since he did not “accept the coup, I could not report to those who staged it”.
“I still insist to use my own rights and liberty to call for returning the country to democracy,” he said.
After declaring martial law on May 20, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup and is in charge, invited political rivals and cabinet ministers for two days of peace talks to resolve the crisis.
But those talks lasted just four hours.
At the end of the meeting, Prayuth ordered everyone inside detained and announced the army was seizing power on state television almost immediately afterwards.
Prayuth, who was endorsed on Monday by the king as the nation’s new ruler, warned opponents not to criticise or protest, saying Thailand could revert to the “old days” of turmoil and street violence if they did.