Thai year-old coup imposes superficial calm but little else

Shortly after seizing power in a coup that followed months of debilitating street protests, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha vowed to end Thailand's decade of political upheaval once and for all. In his words, "to bring everything out in the open and fix it."

Bangkok: Shortly after seizing power in a coup that followed months of debilitating street protests, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha vowed to end Thailand's decade of political upheaval once and for all. In his words, "to bring everything out in the open and fix it."

One year later, the military can boast it has restored stability and kept this Southeast Asian nation calm. But the bitter societal fissures that helped trigger the putsch are still simmering below the surface, unresolved.

"Our differences have just been pushed under the rug by a junta that prohibits freedom of expression. Nothing has been done to address the root causes of Thailand's deep divide," said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.

He said what is happening now is the imposition of peace by force. "There's no guarantee that whenever the junta lets go of their iron grip, the country will not to fall back into conflict," he said.

On Friday, the anniversary of the takeover, police quashed a small student demonstration in Bangkok, triggering scuffles.

At least 37 people were detained overnight and released Saturday after 11 hours of questioning. Seven others who staged a similar protest in the northeastern city of Khon Kaen were also freed.

Speaking to reporters the same day, Prayuth acknowledged that seizing power was wrong. But he nevertheless defended the overthrow of Yingluck Shinawatra's government, saying "we cannot fix the past, but we can build for the future."

The problem, critics argue, is that the junta may be sowing the seeds of more conflict by building that future on its own terms, with reform committee, a rubber-stamp legislature, and no input from the Pheu Thai party it toppled or their supporters, who likely still represent a majority of the electorate. 

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