thailand bomb 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Thailand's army commander wrested power from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, sending tanks and troops into the streets of the Thai capital and declaring martial law Wednesday.
An announcement on national television, signed by Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, said martial law had been declared across Thailand and the Constitution revoked. He ordered all troops to report to their duty stations and not leave without permission from their commanders.
In Israel, the Foreign Ministry took a non-alarmist approach to the coup, neither calling on Israelis currently in Thailand to return home, nor warning Israelis against traveling there now.
Rather, the ministry issued a low-key statement saying that despite some heavy traffic jams, life in Bangkok was carrying on as usual.
The Ministry, however, did call on Israelis - there are an estimated 6,000 - 8,000 Israeli tourists in Thailand - to exercise caution, refrain from going near the government area where the tanks were located, and to stay near their residences.
The ministry, obviously not wanting to take on the responsibility of deciding for people whether now was the right time to go to Thailand, said in the statement that those traveling there should keep abreast of the news and "weigh the necessity of the trip." One ministry spokeswoman said that at the present time there was no immediate danger to Israeli tourists in Thailand. She also said that the Israeli embassy was not located near the scene of the coup. The spokeswoman said that scores of worried parents called the ministry's situation room during the late afternoon to hear the Foreign Ministry's assessment of the situation.
Sondhi's troops struck while Thaksin was abroad, circling his offices with tanks, seizing control of television stations and declaring a provisional authority loyal to the king.
The announcement 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.
A senior army general said the chiefs of the army, navy and air force were meeting with the king to discuss the formation of an interim government, suggesting it would probably be led by civilians.
"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 coup announcement said. "We ask for the cooperation of the public and ask your pardon for the inconvenience." The coup - apparently bloodless - was the first overt military intervention in the Thai political scene since 1992 when an attempt by Prime Minister Suchinda Kraprayoon, a military general, to retain power was countered by mass street demonstrations and Suchinda's ouster.
After the incident, the military vowed to remain in the barracks in contrast to earlier decades when military coups were a staple of Thai politics.
The army general said Sondhi had used the military to take over power from the prime minister. The general said troops were moved from the western province of Kanchanaburi to stage the coup.
Sondhi, a Muslim in this Buddhist-dominated country, is known to be close to Thailand's revered constitutional monarch.
Army spokesman Col. Akara Chitroj told reporters that Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit had been removed from his post.
"The government is no longer administering the country," he said, "I think Thaksin will not return to Thailand for the time being," he said, without elaborating what would happen if Thaksin returned.
Akara didn't elaborate on Chitchai's fate, but the general said the coup makers arrested him along with Defense Minister Thammarak Isaragura na Ayuthaya - two officials close to Thaksin.
In a vain attempt to stave off the coup, Thaksin had ordered Sondhi to report to Chitchai immediately, effectively dismissing him from his military duties. Thaksin told of his move when he declared a state of emergency in Bangkok at 9:15 p.m., when he spoke on TV Channel 9 by audio from New York, where he was attending the UN General Assembly. At least 14 tanks surrounded Government House, Thaksin's office said.
The coup went largely unnoticed in Thailand's popular tourist districts, where foreigners packed beer bars and cabarets oblivious to the activity about three kilometers away. But word raced among street vendors hawking T-shirts, who packed up their carts quickly and started heading home.
Hundreds of people gathered at Government House to take photos and videos of themselves with the tanks, among them Sasiprapha Chantawong, a student at Thammasat University.
"I don't agree with the coup, but now that they've done it, I support it because Thaksin has refused to resign from his position," Sasiprapha said. "Allowing Thaksin to carry on will ruin the country more than this. The reputation of the country may be somewhat damaged, but it's better than letting Thaksin stay in power."
The move came a day before a major rally - the first in several months - was to be staged in Bangkok by an anti-Thaksin coalition that has been seeking his resignation for alleged corruption and abuse of power.