Thai coup: South Africans tell of chaos, fear

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iol pic wld THAILAND-PROTEST-_0523_11 REUTERS An armed soldier stands behind riot policemen providing security near an army centre where ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and other officials were summoned by the army in Bangkok. picture: Damir Sagolj

Johannesburg/Bangkok -

South Africans living, visiting and working in Thailand have been advised to register as “‘South Africans living abroad” so the embassy knows at all times in which part of the country they are.

Thailand’s military seized power in a bloodless coup on Thursday, dissolving the government and suspending the constitution.

Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesman Clayson Monyela said reports from Thailand were that it was relatively safe, but he urged South Africans to observe the 10pm to 5am curfew, to avoid protests sites and to stay in regular contact with the embassy.

“There are no reports of violence, but it is very important that they adhere to this advice - especially the curfew,” he said.

South Africans working abroad have said the situation is tense.

A teacher, who did not want to be named, said there were soldiers all over the streets in Bangkok. The schools were closed today, as were all shops from 10pm on Thursday night.

“The usually very busy and bustling streets were deserted on Thursday night. There was chaos just before 10pm as people were fighting to get home before curfew started.

“Because the buses were full to capacity, and some were prevented from entering and leaving the city, taxis were charging thousands of bhats to transport people home. There was complete chaos.

“Teachers were told not to report to schools as they would be closed, and we should stay at home. We have also been warned that there is a 2 000 bhat (R635) fine, or a jail sentence, if we get caught on the streets during curfew.

“We have been told to respect the law, as it is a serious situation,” she said.

Foreigners have been told not to post anything negative about the military on Twitter or Facebook as these sites are being monitored and there is a threat the military government will suspend wi-fi.

All international TV stations have been cut.

This morning the South African government condemned the coup and called for constitutional order.

“The South African government has expressed concern regarding the political situation in the Kingdom of Thailand, particularly in light of the unconstitutional change of government that took place on 22 May,” a statement read.

Reuters reports that Thailand’s army chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, summoned ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to a meeting this morning and said he wanted to restore order following months of turmoil.

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

Soldiers detained politicians from both sides when Prayuth announced the military takeover, which drew swift international condemnation, after talks he was presiding over broke down.

Leaders of pro- and anti-government protest groups were still believed to be in detention, said an opposition lawmaker who declined to be named.

The military banned 155 people, including politicians and activists, from leaving Thailand.

The website to register as South Africans living abroad is www.dfa.gov.za.

Allies and key trading partners expressed disquiet over Thailand’s coup on Friday, demanding a quick return to civilian rule as some warned against travel to the prime tourist destination.

Japanese vehicle manufacturers that have invested heavily in Thailand were forced to stop night operations at their factories to comply with the curfew imposed by the new junta, which seized power on Thursday in a move the US said had “no justification”.

Japan, by far Thailand’s biggest foreign investor, described the coup as “regrettable”.

“Our country wants to call strongly for a prompt restoration of a democratic political system,” added Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

Toyota, the world’s number one carmaker, said the curfew had halted production at all three of its local assembly plants.

Honda Motor also curtailed operations at its plant on Thursday.

The Pentagon said it was reviewing military co-operation with America’s oldest Asian ally, while Secretary of State John Kerry warned of potential fallout.

“While we value our long friendship with the Thai people, this act will have negative implications for the US-Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military,” he said.

In Beijing, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters: “China and Thailand are friendly neighbours. We hope to see normal social order to be restored as soon as possible in Thailand.”

Australia, meanwhile, said it was “gravely concerned” at the army’s seizure of power.

Singapore also warned the situation was “unpredictable and volatile”.

“Singaporeans should seriously reconsider visiting Thailand at the moment,” their foreign ministry said.

The Star



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