Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand is in New York to address the opening of the UN General Assembly. That’s when the Thai army conducted a coup dé’tat, and seized control of Bangkok without a shot being fired.
The army has dismissed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, revoked the constitution but promised a swift return to democracy after political reforms.
In a vain attempt to head off the coup, Thaksin’s government spokesman at the UN telephoned a Thai television station to announce a state of emergency. He made a brave but futile effort to say that the army could not succeed and PM Thaksin is still in control.
But tanks and troops took over Government House in the capital and surrounding provinces. Armoured vehicles and soldiers took up position on many street corners, but life in most of Bangkok continued much as usual with traffic moving through rain drenched streets and the airport operating normally.
The army announced on TV that the seizure would be temporary and power "returned to the people" soon.
The army told all soldiers to report to base and banned unauthorised troop movements, suggesting the military leadership was worried that Thaksin loyalists in the armed forces might attempt a counter-coup.
The armed forces and police had set up a body to decide on political reforms, accusing Thaksin of subverting Thailand's 74-year-old democracy.
An army spokesman said: "Never in Thai history have the people been so divided. The majority of people had become suspicious of this administration, which is running the country through rampant corruption.”
"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, said he believed royal adviser Sumate Tantivejakul would steer the political reform process. He said that elections would be called when it was done and Thaksin, Thailand's longest serving elected prime minister, would be allowed to take part.
Another miloitary officer stated: "There is no other means to solve the political deadlock. It's been almost a year that the country has no democracy, no legitimate government to run the country. I've told foreign diplomats Thailand may need to take a step backward, if they think a coup will, in order to leap forward."
Thailand's army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin has met with the nation's revered king after declaring that he had staged a coup against Thaksin. The leaders of the navy and the air force were with him at teh palace for more than two hours in Bangkok immediately after announcing the coup.
Meanwhile in Mew York, at the UN, Thai officials who asked not to be named (can you blame them) said that PM Thaksin is still in command of the nation and that he will spell out his position in his UN speech later in the day. Thaksin is monitoring events in a New York hotel with his aides.
The spokesman said: "The Thai Prime Minister is quite calm. He feels that he is the elected Prime Minister and he would like to safeguard the constitution of the country."
(1) Thailand's Constitutional Crisis
(2) Thailand can't say "Mai pen rai"