Today’s top story is a military coup in Thailand while the prime minister is in New York. Hey, while the cat’s out of town, the mice get down.
Troops and tanks guarded the streets of Bangkok last night after the army chief launched a coup while the billionaire prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was out of the country.
Lt-Gen Sondhi Boonyaratkalin said he was acting on behalf of the nation’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
There were fears that clashes could break out between army factions, some loyal to Mr Thaksin and others to the king. People on the outskirts of Bangkok said they saw 35 lorries each with 10 armed members of the Queen’s Regiment, the equivalent of the Brigade of Guards, travelling towards the city centre.
Tanks guarded the entrance to Government House, a sprawling Italianate building, and two others were stationed nearby as soldiers lined up along the walls of the compound.
A general said that the deputy prime minister and the defence minister, two of Mr Thaksin’s closest allies, had been arrested.
A witness to what seemed like a classic coup described the atmosphere as “very calm”, as about 100 civilians milled around “smiling and taking photographs”. Mr Thaksin, 57, a telecoms tycoon who came close to acquiring Liverpool Football Club two years ago, has caused resentment in the army by making hand-picked appointments and is accused of policy failures which ignited a separatist insurgency in the predominantly Muslim south. A senior military officer said on television and radio that the constitution, cabinet and parliament had all been suspended and that martial law was in force in Bangkok.
He said that a council for political reform, with the king as head of state, had seized power in the capital and neighbouring provinces.
“There has been no struggle,” he said. “We ask for the co-operation of the public and ask your pardon for the inconvenience.” The statement emphasised that the coup was temporary and that a commission would be set up to decide on political reforms and oversee an election. Officials said that Gen Sondhi and other military leaders had met the king at the royal palace, apparently to work out an interim government. Gen Sondhi said: “The council found it necessary to seize power as of now.”
Mr Thaksin, whose opponents accuse him of corruption and abuse of power, was in New York, where he was due to address the United Nations General Assembly. Television news showed him saying that he was sacking Gen Sondhi and declaring a state of emergency in Bangkok. He ordered troops to follow only “legal orders” but the screens went blank as he was speaking. Most inter-national television stations, including the BBC and CNN, went off the air and the country’s six public broadcasters flashed a continual message that forces loyal to the king had taken control “to maintain law and order”. Images of the king were shown repeatedly.
Thailand has been in crisis for months. At times, as many as 100,000 people have demonstrated to demand the removal of Mr Thaksin. In April he called and won a snap election but the result was annulled after allegations of cheating by his Thai Rak Thai Party. He has been serving as a caretaker prime minister since then.
Thailand has a long history of military coups since the Second World War, but the last was 14 years ago, when dozens died as security forces opened fire on protesters.
Let’s not forget that this is the same prime minister that came up with the grand scheme of dropping millions of paper birds for peace in Thailand’s violence-ridden and heavily-Islamic southern provinces.
As is commonly the case when international developments of this nature are breaking, I usually head over to Publius Pundit. Once again, I am not disappointed as A.M. Mora y Leon and Robert Mayer provide updates, links and analysis worth reading.