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Thai military launches coup against PM

Martial law declared as tanks roll through streets of Bangkok

MSNBC News Services
Updated: 1:12 p.m. CT Sept 19, 2006

BANGKOK, Thailand - Thailands army commander ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a military coup Tuesday night while he was in New York, circling his offices with tanks, declaring martial law and revoking the constitution.

An announcement on national television signed by army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin ordered all troops to report to their duty stations.

As soldiers and armored vehicles moved through Bangkok, an announcement from the military earlier declared a provisional authority loyal to beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The announcement declared that a Council of Administrative Reform had seized power in Bangkok and nearby provinces without any resistance. It recognized the king as head of state.

The seizure would be temporary and power returned to the people soon, retired Lieutenant-General Prapart Sakuntanak said on all Thai television channels.

Sparked by corruption allegations
Prapart said the armed forces and police had set up a body to decide on political reforms, ousting billionaire telecoms tycoon Thaksin in the midst of a political crisis stemming from accusations he had subverted Thailands 74-year-old democracy.

Never in Thai history have the people been so divided, Prapart said.

The majority of people had become suspicious of this administration, which is running the country through rampant corruption, he added.

Independent bodies have been interfered with so much they could not perform in line within the spirit of the constitution.

Weerasak Kohsurat, a deputy minister in a previous government, told Reuters he believed royal adviser Sumate Tantivejakul would head the reform commission and an interim government would be formed while political reforms were agreed.

Elections would be called soon and Thaksin would be allowed to take part, he said.

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Gregory Bull / AP file
Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Thinawatra waves to a crowd in Havana, Cuba, on Sept. 14. Thaksin was in New York to address the U.N. on Tuesday when a coup broke out in Bangkok.

U.S. watches developments
The coup went largely unnoticed in Thailands 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.

Group had sought PMs ouster
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 Thailands top courts, leaving the country without a working legislature.

Thaksins 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 countrys 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.

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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.

Corruption claims
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 nations army chief to work in the prime ministers office, effectively suspending him from his military duties.

Thaksins 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 Singapores 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.

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

In Thailands 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 countrys 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 worlds 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 Thailands 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.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Update By AngelFarah

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