Thailand's powerful army chief refused yesterday to rule out military intervention to defuse an escalating political crisis, the latest blow for a government determined a February election will go ahead despite deadly clashes with protesters.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha said "the door was neither open nor closed" when asked whether a coup would happen, a marked shift from the strong denials the armed forces routinely make.
"Anything can happen," Prayuth told a news conference in Bangkok. "It depends on the situation ... we are trying to do the right thing, in a peaceful way and we urge negotiations."
The general's comments represent a major setback for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is under attack from opponents determined to overthrow her and weaken the influence of her self-exiled brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
She has called an election for February 2, which her Puea Thai party is almost certain to win, but anti-government protesters have vowed to stop the poll. The Election Commission also asked for a postponement after violent clashes on Thursday.
The deadlock and violence have become all too familiar in Thailand, where the military have staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of democracy.
Rumours of a coup have persisted in recent weeks. Three sources with ties to the military said recently that two of Prayuth's still-influential predecessors had expressed their support for the protest movement.
The protesters want the suspension of what they say is a fragile democracy subverted by Thaksin to enhance the business empires of his family and friends, using cheap health care, micro-loans and state subsidies to buy off the poor.
They draw strength from the south, as well as Bangkok's establishment of old-money families, the royalist bureaucracy and generals who despise Thaksin's rise.
A total of 53 parties have signed up to run in the polls. The commission said yesterday it would seek talks with the government and demonstrators to break the deadlock.
Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul asked the military yesterday to provide security for candidates and voters.
Video: Thai police battle protesters trying to stop election