By Peter Janssen (DPA)
BANGKOK — The Thai military staged a coup Thursday after efforts to reconcile rival political factions failed, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a television broadcast.
The coup leaders announced the revocation of the constitution, imposed a curfew and began clearing protest sites.
It had been necessary to seize power to prevent further violence, deaths and damage to property in the country after months of political turmoil, said Prayuth, who was flanked by the heads of the air force and navy.
"The National Peace and Order Maintainance Council has taken power on May 22, at 4:30 pm" (1130 GMT), Prayuth said.
The broadcast followed a swift end to the second day of reconciliation talks at the Army Club in Bangkok, where Prayuth had gathered representatives of rival factions to find a solution to the political stalemate.
The talks, which started Wednesday, were the first since anti-government protests broke out in early November.
They brought together representatives of the caretaker cabinet, the ruling Pheu Thai party, the opposition Democrat Party, the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), the pro-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the Senate and the Election Commission.
Caretaker Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan did not attend.
The PDRC has been protesting for seven months in a bid to bring down the government and make way for an appointed government and interim cabinet to oversee sweeping political reforms ahead of an election.
The caretaker government, the ruling Pheu Thai party and the pro-government UDD say it would be unconstitutional to appoint a prime minister, and that a new government must be elected.
Prayuth said Thursday he would push through reforms to satisfy all parties.
The coup would not affect Thailand's relations with its allies, he added.
The military imposed a curfew from 10 pm to 5am (1500 to 2200 GMT) and again declared the imposition of martial law nationwide. The commander-in-chief had first declared martial law on Tuesday.
The curfew and martial law was announced on TV by Colonel Winthai Suwali, spokesman for the National Peace and Order Maintainance Council, set up to run the country in the post-coup period.
Winthai also announced the revocation of the constitution.
The constitution, which was drafted by a military-appointed committee following the last coup of September 19, 2006, was revoked except for Article 2, which states that Thailand is a democracy under a constitutional monarchy with the king as head of state.
An order was issued for caretaker Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan to turn himself in.
A ban on political gatherings was also announced.
Soldiers began clearing the site of pro-government protesters in western Bangkok, shortly after the coup was announced.
Leaders of the group said the protesters should follow the directions of the soldiers, who were telling people to leave, a witness who gave his name only as Narat told dpa.
The demonstrators, known as Red Shirts, had been camped out for several weeks in support of the government amid wider protests against the administration and ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra.
This is the first coup in Thailand since 2006.