Vowing to halt months of political bloodshed, coup makers led by the tough-talking army chief declared a nationwide night-time curfew and ordered masses of rival demonstrators off the streets.
Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was removed from office in a controversial court ruling earlier this month, arrived at an army facility in Bangkok in her private bullet-proof vehicle after a summons from the military regime.
Dozens of prominent figures from both sides of the political divide, including Yingluck’s successor Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, were ordered to show up. It was unclear what awaited them.
The army said 155 prominent figures, including the ousted government leaders, were banned from leaving the country without permission.
The military regime headed by General Prayut Chan-O-Cha suspended most of the constitution, drawing rebukes from Washington, Europe and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who all called for civilian control to be restored.
Secretary of State John Kerry said there was “no justification” for a coup that would have “negative implications” for US relations, and demanded early elections. The Pentagon said it was reviewing military cooperation with America’s oldest ally in Asia.
Southeast Asian neighbours urged caution, with Malaysia warning its nationals to defer non-essential travel to Thailand.
Japan, Thailand’s biggest foreign investor, stopped short of a travel warning but called for a “prompt restoration of a democratic political system”, as Toyota and Honda curtailed night-time shifts at their Thai plants because of the curfew.
Thailand has been locked in a political crisis since a 2006 military coup that deposed Yingluck’s elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon-turned-populist politician who clashed with the royalist establishment.
The military held on to power for more than a year after the 2006 coup and since then, a power bloc centred on Thaksin’s family has battled for primacy with a Bangkok-based royalist camp closely tied to the powerful military.
His supporters, known as the “Red Shirts”, had warned that an overthrow of the government could trigger civil war and all eyes are on how the movement will respond.