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June 25, 2017

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Thai troops swoop on former minister

BANGKOK--Thai soldiers swooped to detain a fugitive former cabinet minister on Tuesday after he emerged from hiding to become the first member of the ousted government to publicly denounce a military coup.

In dramatic scenes played out in front of stunned journalists, Chaturon Chaisang, education minister in a government ousted by the army last week, was marched out of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand by troops.

The veteran politician was holding a press conference in defiance of an order for him to report to the junta.

He decried the coup-makers as inexperienced, warning of burgeoning resistance to the power grab as well as the potential for the army to "be more cruel than you might expect."

Analysts say the junta's move to detain scores of political figures from across the kingdom's bitter divide is aimed at quelling potential opposition to the May 22 coup.

Despite warnings by the top general of a widening crackdown on dissent, protesters have been gathering in small but vehement rallies in Bangkok.

They pose a direct challenge to a ban on political assemblies — under martial law — which is backed by sweeping curbs on the media and an overnight curfew.

An army spokesman said former premier Yingluck Shinawatra had been released by the military and allowed to return home, the first official confirmation of her whereabouts since she was detained last week after reporting to the junta.

Yingluck, who was removed from office by a controversial May 7 court ruling, signed an agreement to report her movements to the military, Colonel Winthai Suvaree told reporters.

'Coup no solution'

Chaturon was among the first batch of people summoned by the military in the hours after it took power, citing the need to restore peace and order to the kingdom following months of sometimes violent protests against Yingluck's government.

He refused to report to the authorities, telling a packed press conference Tuesday that he wanted to show his opposition to the coup — the latest in a string of 19 actual or attempted army takeovers in the kingdom's modern history.

"The coup is not a solution to problems of conflict in Thailand," he told reporters, cautioning "from now on there will be more and more resistance."

Army spokesman Winthai said the ex-minister's case will now be handled by a military court.

The junta has said that those who defy its order to hand themselves in face up to two years in prison and a 40,000 baht (US$1,225) fine.

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