Thailand's army declared martial law nationwide on Tuesday to restore order after six months of street protests that have left the country without a proper functioning government, but denied that the surprise move amounted to a military coup.
While troops patrolled the streets of Bangkok, the caretaker government led by supporters of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was still in office, military and government officials said. Ministers were not informed of the army's plan before the announcement on television at 3 a.m. (2000 GMT on Monday).
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military was taking charge of public security because of violent protests that had claimed lives and caused damage. Nearly 30 people have been killed since the protests began in November last year.
"We are concerned this violence could harm the country's security in general. Then, in order to restore law and order to the country, we have declared martial law," Prayuth said.
"I'm asking all those activist groups to stop all activities and cooperate with us in seeking a way out of this crisis."
Prayuth had invited directors of government agencies and other high-ranking officials to a meeting at 2 p.m. (0700 GMT), an army spokesman said. Provincial governors and top officials were summoned to met the army at regional centres.
Both pro- and anti-government protesters are camped out at different places in Bangkok and the army ordered them to remain where they were and not march anywhere to prevent clashes.
The army also called on media not to broadcast material that would affect national security.
The caretaker government, wary of the army given its past interventions on the side of the establishment, welcomed the move to restore order. It said it had not been informed but it was still running the country.
"The government doesn't have a problem with this and can govern the country as normal," caretaker Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri, told Reuters.
An aide said caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan had summoned a government meeting at an undisclosed location to discuss the situation.
Thailand has been stuck in political limbo since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister, and nine of her ministers were dismissed on May 7 after a court found them guilty of abuse of power.
The crisis, the latest instalment of a near-decade-long power struggle between former telecoms tycoon Thaksin and the royalist establishment, has brought the country to the brink of recession.
The military, which put down a pro-Thaksin protest movement in 2010,