A military in a surprise pre-dawn move today declared martial law to maintain order after six months of anti-government protests that left the country paralysed, but denied it had staged a coup even as the interim premier announced fresh elections on August 3.
"The military will not tolerate any more loss of lives," Thai Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-O-Cha said.
"The Army aims to maintain peace, order and public safety for all groups and all parties," the military said in a statement. It insisted that its assumption of responsibility for national security was not a coup.
"People are urged not to panic, and can carry on their business as usual. Declaring martial law is not a coup d'etat," it said.
An army spokesman said that the imposition of martial law will have no impact on the caretaker government which remains in office. The announcement also granted the army wide-ranging powers to enforce its decision.
Prayuth also invited both the country's rival political blocs for talks, hours after imposing martial law.
"We are in the process of inviting both sides to talk but at the minute the situation is still not normal... that's why I have had to invoke martial law," Prayuth told reporters.
Reacting to the development, India today advised its nationals in Thailand to take precautions for their safety after the military imposed martial law in the troubled South East Asian nation.
"Indian tourists and residents in Thailand are advised to take precautions for their safety," the Indian Embassy here said in an advisory.
Acting PM Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan today said that he had asked the Election Commission to organise a national election for August 3.
He said the government had written to the Thai Election Commission proposing the new date for polls and hoped to "submit a royal decree" next week for the king to endorse a new national vote.
But the anti-government demonstrators have made it clear they do not regard elections as a way out of the crisis.
Thailand's opposition People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) demonstrators vowed to keep up their campaign to topple the government, despite the imposition of martial law.
"We will still keep fighting," PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban told supporters.
"The announcement of martial law has no effect and is in no way an obstacle to our fight," added the firebrand former opposition MP, wanted by police on a charge of insurrection.
The military's decision was approved by army chief Prayuth, citing a 1914 law that allows it to intervene during times of crisis.
Prayuth called on the rival parties to talk to each other and resolve the political crisis. Martial law would remain in place until "peace and order" had been restored, he told government officials today, the BBC reported.
Martial law comes after a long-running political crisis, and months of escalating tensions between the government and the opposition. Anti-government protesters have staged mass protests in recent days to topple the government.
The political unrest in recent months has claimed 28 lives.