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Thai Army Says Vote Can’t Be Held as Threat of Violence Persists

Thailand’s military government said returning the country to civilian rule soon is “impossible” because the threat of further violence means it can’t guarantee an election would be free and fair.

The army was forced to stage a coup May 22 after two days of meetings with key figures from both sides of the political divide failed to find a solution to the nation’s six-month political deadlock, raising the threat of fresh clashes between rival protest groups, Lt. Gen. Chatchalerm Chalermsukh, said today at a media briefing in Bangkok.

“Neither side could see eye to eye,” he said. “Both sides must be made to remain calm. They don’t have to love each other, but they must remain calm. All must be peaceful.”

The coup was supposed to end political turmoil that led to an annulled election in February and the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra three months later. Instead, protesters have ignored martial law and returned to Bangkok’s streets this week, this time to oppose the army’s seizure of power and call for the return of civilian rule.

“We will definitely have an election,” Chatchalerm said. “If you ask me how long it will take, that’s difficult to answer.”

The army has threatened to prosecute people who spread divisive comments and shutter social media sites that don’t censor “provocative” content. Internet users in Thailand reported temporarily losing access to Facebook Inc. yesterday. The military denied it ordered the site to be blocked.

Soldiers began blocking off Victory Monument just before 4 p.m. local time today even though no demonstrators were present. Small anti-coup protests have occurred in parts of Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai, and people who support the coup have held their own demonstrations at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument.

Thaksin’s Influence

The army seized power a week ago after months of street protests against the government headed by Yingluck, whose brother Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a coup in 2006. While Yingluck was forced to step down by the Constitutional Court on May 7, her opponents continued to push for the army to help it remove the entire government to erase the influence of the Shinawatra family from politics.

Of the 253 people summoned by the military since the coup, 200 have reported to authorities and 124 were released, Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the military’s National Council for Peace and Order, said yesterday. The junta said an overnight curfew in place since the coup may be eased in popular tourist cities including Phuket and Pattaya.

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