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US says millions in aid to Thailand, military ties under review after coup

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A Thai soldier stands guard over anti-government demonstrators with their belongings, as they leave their demonstration site after soldiers staged a coup Thursday, May 22, 2014 in 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.

SAKCHAI LALIT / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

A Thai soldier stands guard over anti-government demonstrators with their belongings, as they leave their demonstration site after soldiers staged a coup Thursday, May 22, 2014 in 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.

WASHINGTON - The United States is preparing to suspend up to $10 million in bilateral assistance to Thailand and is reviewing military ties after the nation's armed forces took power after months of political strife.

Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no justification for Thursday's coup which he said will have "negative implications" for the relationship between the U.S. and its oldest ally in Asia.

The bloodless military takeover quickly drew stiff international criticism. The European Union said it was following developments in Thailand with "extreme concern" and called for credible and inclusive elections "as soon as feasible." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for a prompt return to democratic rule.

Kerry said in a statement: "I am disappointed by the decision of the Thai military to suspend the constitution and take control of the government after a long period of political turmoil, and there is no justification for this military coup."

He called for the release of detained senior political leaders of Thailand's major parties, and voiced concern that media outlets have been shut down. He urged the immediate restoration of civilian government and a return to democracy.

After Thailand's last military coup in 2006, the U.S. froze military assistance for a year-and-a-half until democracy was restored.

Under U.S. law, sanctions kick in if a country receiving American aid is judged to have undergone a coup. The Obama administration, however, did not make such a determination when a military takeover took place in Egypt, a country of strategic importance to Washington in the Middle East.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to compare the two cases, but said of the situation in Thailand: "We will be implementing it to the full letter of the law."

Officials are now deliberating which aid to cut. Psaki told reporters up to $10 million in bilateral assistance from the department and the U.S. Agency for International Development and an undetermined amount from global and regional aid programs could be suspended.

Defence Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Thursday that the Pentagon was reviewing its military relationship with Thailand, including a military exercise that began Monday with about 700 Marines and sailors participating. He said officials are looking at various options, but no decisions have been made.

After the 2006 coup that toppled then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the U.S. took nine days before it announced its suspension of military aid, including funds for military sales, training of officers under the International Military Education and Training program, and funding for peacekeeping and counter-terrorism training.

According to a Congressional Research Service report, that response was seen as relatively mild. The suspended programs totalled more than $29 million. Some programs deemed to be in the U.S. interest continued.

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