Army chief warns the military ‘may be needed to come out and restore peace and order’ writes Richard S. Ehrlich for Asia Sentinel.

Thailand’s powerful military is clearly growing concerned about the rising tide of political violence in Bangkok, with Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha warning in an official statement that the carnage has to stop.

“I want to warn every group — especially those who use violence and war weapons against innocent civilians — to stop now because if the violence continues the military may be needed to come out… to restore peace and order,” Prayuth said.

Opposition protest leaders have been playing a calculated game since efforts began six months ago to drive the elected Pheu Thai government from power, seeking as a backstop to provoke military intervention if other methods fail. The military has been the real power in the country since a 1932 coup ended the absolute monarchy but now protects the legitimacy of the throne.

Thai soldiers in Bangkok. Pic: AP.

However, the military has been extremely reluctant to intervene, partly because army leaders are said to be split among themselves and partly because of the opprobrium it has suffered since it violently suppressed a rally of rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2010, taking at least 90 lives, most of them civilians. Today, according to analysts in Bangkok, it would only step in extremely unwillingly.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, would like nothing better than to have the military behind his organization, which has proposed since November that an unelected prime minister run the government after the Pheu Thai forces are driven from power.

Suthep in recent days has sought to boost his image from that of mere spokesman for the opposition while at the same time seeking to portray the elected government as one without legal standing. While the opposition has charged that the Thaksin forces are corrupt, the real aim is to protect the Bangkok establishment and royalty against the rural poor, increasingly empowered by social programs put in place starting when Thaksin took power in 2001.

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