General Prayut Chan-O-Cha made the announcement in a televised address to the nation, saying the powerful armed forces had to act to restore stability in the deeply divided Southeast Asian nation.
“In order for the country to return to normal quickly, the National Peace Keeping Committee comprised of the army, the Thai armed forces, the Royal Air Force and the police need to seize power as of May 22 at 4.30 pm,” Prayut said.
He said power would be held by the committee, which he will lead.
Moments before the stunning announcement, witnesses said they saw leaders of Thailand’s two main political parties as well as its rival protest movements being taken by the military from a venue where Prayut had convened talks aimed at resolving their differences.
But it was unclear if they had been formally detained.
The tough-talking Prayut, 60, said he seized power due to “the violence in Bangkok and many parts of the country that resulted in loss of innocent lives and property and was likely to escalate.”