By Somchai Kwankijswet and Peter Janssen (DPA)
BANGKOK — Thai army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha early Tuesday declared martial law, giving the military full control over peace-keeping in the country that has seen six months of anti-government protests.
The statement was issued about 3 am Tuesday (2000 GMT), according to local media reports.
In a brief statement Prayuth dissolved the government's Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CAPO) and set up an army-controlled peace keeping centre.
Prayuth has the authority to declare martial law without the consent of the government, which has had caretaker status since December 9.
"It looks like he may have decided to do this without consulting the government, since his first order was to dissolve the CAPO which was jointly run by the government and police," said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist and military affairs analyst at Chulalongkorn University.
Thailand has been wracked by six months of non-stop protests seeking to topple the government.
At least 25 people have died in political-related violence and more than 700 injured.
On Thursday, Prayuth warned the army would use "full force" to maintain law and order in the country during the on-going political crisis, after three protesters were killed.
The declaration of martial law follows the launch over the weekend of a "final battle" against the government by Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), the main anti-government protest group.
Suthep on Saturday said he would pressure the remaining 25 members of the caretaker cabinet to resign and launch a mass protest on Friday to Monday to topple the administration.
He vowed to turn himself in to authorities to face insurrection charges on May 27 should his final battle fail.
"I think Prayuth is trying to neutralize the confrontation between the PDRC and elements of the pro-government groups who have threatened to fight back if Suthep's group capture some of the ministers," Panitan said.
Martial law gives the army control over security, but leaves the government in command of other tasks, unlike a coup.
Thailand has witnessed 18 coups in the past eight decades, the last of which ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.
The army has stationed troops in the capital to help police keep the peace during the past six months of protests, which have brought Thai politics to a stalemate.
Bangkok (CNN) — The Thai army declared martial law throughout the country Tuesday in a surprise move that an aide to the country's embattled Prime Minister said the government didn't know about beforehand.
"They took this action unilaterally. The government is having a special meeting regarding this. We have to watch and see if the army chief honors his declaration of impartiality," the aide said, describing the situation as "half a coup d'etat."
Lt. Gen. Nipat Thonglek told CNN the move was not a coup.
"The Army aims to maintain peace, order and public safety for all groups and all parties," a ticker running on the army's television channel said. "People are urged not to panic, and can carry on their business as usual. Declaring martial law is not a coup d'etat."
Martial law went into effect at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, the ticker said.
All Thai TV stations are being guarded by the military, Thai public television announced, showing pictures of soldiers and armored vehicles taking positions outside broadcast facilities in the country's capital.
The dramatic announcements come days after the head of the army issued a stern warning after political violence had surged in the country's capital.
Political tensions have been running high in Thailand. Supporters and opponents of the country's government have staged mass protests in recent days, and caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office, along with nine cabinet ministers, by a top court earlier this month.