BANGKOK – Martial law appeared to be primarily playing out behind closed doors Wednesday in Thailand, with little outward change on the streets of Bangkok a day after the military invoked expanded powers. Here's a summary events and a guide to understanding what is happening:
Thailand's army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, assumed the role of mediator by summoning seven key political rivals for face-to-face talks Wednesday for the first time since Thailand's political turmoil escalated six months ago. The meeting of bitter political enemies was unlikely to yield any immediate resolution, but the event itself was a stunning development.
The high-profile figures invited to the meeting included anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and his rival from the pro-government Red Shirt group, Jatuporn Prompan, and the acting prime minister, who did not attend but sent four representatives. Also summoned were leaders of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, the opposition Democrat Party, the Election Commission and representatives from the Senate.
WHY MARTIAL LAW?
In declaring martial law Tuesday, the army said it needed to restore order after long-running political protests that have been targeted by violence. In the latest attack last week, grenades fired at an anti-government protest site in Bangkok left three people dead and more than 20 injured.
The anti-government protest leader billed this week as the "final battle" in ousting the government. Meanwhile, thousands of Red Shirt government supporters were gathering on Bangkok's outskirts.
Several of the measures imposed by the military restrict the media. Ten politically affiliated satellite and cable TV stations, including those funded by the pro- and anti-government protest movements, were asked to stop broadcasting until further notice. Any broadcast or publication that could "incite unrest" is banned, as well as social media that incite violence or opposition to the military authorities.
The military has also banned protesters from marching outside their protest camps.
WHAT'S BEHIND THE POLTICAL TENSION?
Thailand has been gripped by political turmoil since 2006, when former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for Thailand's king. His overthrow triggered a power struggle that in broad terms pits his supporters among a rural majority against a conservative establishment in Bangkok.
The latest round of unrest started in November, when demonstrators took to the streets to try to oust then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister. She dissolved the lower house of Parliament in December in a bid to ease the crisis, and later led a weakened caretaker government.
COULD THIS BE THE FIRST STEP IN A COUP?
The military insisted it was not seizing power, but said it was acting to prevent violence and restore stability in the deeply divided country. Still, a coup is always a possibility in Thailand.
The military has staged 11 successful coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, but it made no immediate moves Tuesday to dissolve the country's constitution or its current caretaker government. If uncontrollable violence erupts, the military might have little choice but to step up its role in politics.
Bangkok residents, meanwhile, tried to make sense of the dramatic turn of events, even as the bustling city went about business as usual and soldiers withdrew from key intersections around the capital.
"After 24 hours of martial law, I have not spotted a single soldier. I've only seen soldiers on TV," said Buntham Lertpatraporn, a 50-year-old vendor of Thai-style doughnuts in the capital's central business district. "My life has not changed at all. But in my mind I feel a little frightened, because I don't know how it will end."
HOW LONG WILL MARTIAL LAW LAST? WHAT'S NEXT?
The army chief says martial law will stay in place until "the country is peaceful and safe." The timeframe depends on what happens next, and whether any violence erupts. Possible scenarios:
— Protesters go home and elections can be held.
— The military acts as mediator and brokers a compromise.
— Anti-government senators push ahead with plans to install an unelected prime minister, a move that would anger Red Shirt protesters.
— A court intervenes and stages a "judicial coup" to unseat the government, another move that would fire up Red Shirts.
— Violence erupts.
— A full military coup is launched.