Thai commander takes over after coup - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Thai commander takes over after coup

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Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 10:45 am | Updated: 4:46 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

BANGKOK, Thailand - The Thai military launched a coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Tuesday night, circling his offices with tanks, seizing control of TV stations and declaring a provisional authority pledging loyalty to the king.

The army commander took over the government and declared martial law.

An announcement on Thai television declared that a "Council of Administrative Reform" with King Bhumibol Adulyadej as head of state had seized power in Bangkok and nearby provinces without any resistance.

"The armed forces commander and the national police commander have successfully taken over Bangkok and the surrounding area in order to maintain peace and order. There has been no struggle," the announcement said. "We ask for the cooperation of the public and ask your pardon for the inconvenience."

Thaksin, who has faced calls to step down amid allegations of corruption and abuse of power, was in New York at the U.N. General Assembly, and he declared a state of emergency via a government-owned TV station.

At least 14 tanks surrounded Government House, Thaksin's office. A convoy of four tanks rigged with loudspeakers and sirens rolled through a busy commercial district of Bangkok, warning people to get off the street for their own safety.

An army general, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin had used the military to take over power from the prime minister.

He said the military arrested Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit and Defense Minister Thammarak Isaragura na Ayuthaya - two Thaksin loyalists - and that Chitchai agreed to resign.

In a vain attempt to stave off the coup, Thaksin in his state-of-emergency declaration from New York had ordered Sondhi to report to Chitchai immediately, effectively dismissing him.

The coup went largely unnoticed in Thailand's popular tourist districts, where foreigners packed bars and cabarets, oblivious to the activity about two miles away. But word raced among street vendors hawking T-shirts, who packed up their carts quickly and started heading home.

In Washington, the State Department said it had seen the various reports from Thailand.

"We are monitoring developments closely, but the situation at the moment is unclear," Kenneth Bailes, a spokesman, said.

"We look to the Thai people to resolve their political differences in a peaceful manner and in accord with the principles of democracy and the rule of law," Bailes said.

The coup came a day before a major rally - the first in several months - was scheduled to take place in Bangkok by a anti-Thaksin coalition that has been seeking his resignation.

Massive rallies earlier this year forced Thaksin to dissolve Parliament and call an election in April, three years ahead of schedule. The poll was boycotted by opposition parties and later annulled by Thailand's top courts, leaving the country without a working legislature.

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party twice won landslide election victories, in 2001 and 2005 and had been expected to win the next vote on Oct. 15, bolstered by its widespread support in the country's rural areas.

In March, Sondhi sought to ease speculation that the military might join the political fray, as it last did in 1992 and more than a dozen other times during earlier crises.

"The army will not get involved in the political conflict. Political troubles should be resolved by politicians," Sondhi said at the time, echoing comments of other top military officials. "Military coups are a thing of the past."

Thaksin, who had been scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday night, switched his speech to Tuesday at 7 p.m. EDT.

On Monday, Thaksin had said he may step down as leader of Thailand after the upcoming elections but would remain at the helm of his party, despite calls for him to give up the post.

In Bangkok, several hundred soldiers were deployed at government installations and major intersections, according to an Associated Press reporter.

Army-owned TV channel 5 interrupted regular broadcasts with patriotic music and showed pictures of the king. At least some radio and television stations monitored in Bangkok suspended programming.

The cable television station of the Nation newspaper reported that tanks were parked at the Rachadamnoen Road and royal plaza close to the royal palace and government offices.

"The prime minister with the approval of the cabinet declares serious emergency law in Bangkok from now on" Thaksin said by television from New York. He said he was ordering the transfer of the nation's army chief to work in the prime minister's office, effectively suspending him from his military duties.

Thaksin's critics want to jettison his policies promoting privatization, free trade agreements and CEO-style administration.

Opposition to Thaksin gained momentum in January when his family announced it had sold its controlling stake in telecommunications company Shin Corp. to Singapore's state-owned Temasek Holdings for a tax-free $1.9 billion. Critics allege the sale involved insider trading and complain a key national asset is now in foreign hands.

Thaksin also has been accused of stifling the media and mishandling a Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand that flared under his rule.

In Thailand's mostly Muslim south, separatist insurgents have waged a bloody campaign that has left at least 1,700 dead, mostly civilians, since 2004. Citizens there have complained of rights abuses by soldiers and discrimination by the country's Buddhist majority.

Bhumibol, a 78-year-old constitutional monarch with limited powers, has used his high prestige to pressure opposing parties to compromise during political crises. He is credited with helping keep Thailand more stable than many of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

He is the world's longest-serving monarch, celebrated his 60th year on the throne with lavish festivities in mid-June that were attended by royalty from around the world.

Many Thais had been counting on him to pull the country through its current political crisis, which has left it with no functioning legislature and only a caretaker government after the inconclusive election.

Bhumibol was born in Cambridge, Mass. He became the ninth king of Thailand's Chakri dynasty on June 9, 1946, succeeding his older brother, Ananda, killed by an unexplained shooting.

Since then, the beloved king has reigned through a score of governments, democratic and dictatorial. He has taken an especially active role in rural development.

In 1992, demonstrators against a military strongman were gunned down before the king stepped in to end the fighting and usher in a period of stability.

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