Bangkok, Thailand: Thailand's military seized power Thursday in a bloodless coup, dissolving the government, suspending the constitution and dispersing groups of protesters from both sides of the country's political divide who had gathered in Bangkok and raised fears of a violent showdown.
The powerful army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced the military takeover in a statement broadcast on national television. It was followed by additional announcements including a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and an order for 18 government officials - including the ousted prime minister - to report immediately to the country's new governing military commission.
There was no immediate sign of soldiers patrolling central Bangkok, but troops dispersed the two protest sites where competing groups were camped out - one backing the now-ousted elected government and one that had struggled for seven months to unseat it.
Although the military has insisted it wasn't taking sides, its ousting of the elected government met the key goal of the anti-government protesters. The pro-government "Red Shirt" supporters had earlier said they would not tolerate a coup, but there were no immediate signs of resistance or reports of violence. The military provided hundreds of buses to take the protesters home.
Long lines formed at the city's elevated train, subway stations and bus stations as panicked office workers tried to rush home before the curfew.
Flanked by the heads of the armed forces, Prayuth said the coup was launched "to quickly bring the situation back to normal, to let the people have love and unity as in the past, and to reform the political and economic systems - and to grant equality to every side."
"We ask the public not to panic and carry on their lives normally," Prayuth said, adding that the military would "provide protection" for foreigners in Thailand.
An army spokesman later announced that it had dissolved the caretaker government and suspended the constitution but that the Senate would remain in place. It also ordered the suspension of all television broadcasting and replaced programming with patriotic music to fill air time between announcements.
CNN, BBC and other cable news channels were also taken off the air.
The coup was the 12th since Thailand's absolute monarchy ended in 1932.
"I hope the soldiers have come out this time to solve the problem once and for all. This is the fourth coup I've seen in my life now," said Pinkaew Pipatada, 65, a flower vendor at the Erawan shrine, a popular tourist site in central Bangkok.
The pivotal developments came after Prayuth had declared martial law on Tuesday in what he called a bid to resolve the crisis, and a day later summoned the country's rival political leaders for face-to-face talks. After two days of talks, the meeting failed to break the impasse.