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2006-09-20,11:40 AM

Thai coup: One night in Bangkok

By Philip Golingai

BANGKOK: An hour after news broke that tanks had rolled into the capital in a military takeover and television stations being seized, I had my first taste of a coup d’etat.

At The Nation office in the suburb of Bangna, 20 minutes from here, a group of heavily armed soldiers turned up at the newspaper office, where I am based as The Star correspondent.

They were there to "secure the newspaper building" where more drastic actions had been taken including taking control of seven Thai television and radio stations.

A journalist from the newspaper, which has been known for its hard-hitting articles against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, appeared unperturbed by the political drama unfolding in the capital.

"They are just friendly forces, who told us that they have come to protect us," he said, as his colleagues watched closely the movement of the men in green fatigue who stood guard at various spots in the six-storey building.

Outside The Nation building, I saw Thai soldiers carrying M-16 assault rifles with yellow ribbon tied to the barrel. The soldiers were friendly and spoke to the journalists outside the office.

My 28-year-old building manager, Supitch Buaseng, called me to warn that "the soldiers have taken over. Please don’t go out of the apartment."

Just earlier, the News Editor had despatched the reporters to various parts of the capital as word went out that the anti-Thaksin military faction had taken control of the city with tanks stationed at the Rachadamnoen Road and the Royal Plaza, close to the Royal Palace and government offices.

Soldiers were also seen patrolling at the Erawan Hotel, a major tourist area near the famed Four-Faced Buddha, while more soldiers were seen at major intersections.

The talk at the newsroom was that there could be a possible clash between rival camps in the army.

There was also talk that Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit and Defence Minister Thammarak Isaragura na Ayuthaya – two close loyalists of Thaksin – had been arrested.

The fate of Thaksin, who is now in New York for the United Nations general assembly, hangs in the balance.

But even as the international news network reported news of the coup, ordinary Bangkok city folk and tourists appeared unaware that a coup was in progress.

Foreigners were still seen packing bars and clubs, oblivious to what was taking place but some hawkers and traders were seen closing their stalls earlier than usual, apparently worried by the uncertainties ahead.

At 11pm, the main tourist spots of Sukhumvit, Silom and Rachada were busy as usual. Most Thais found out about the coup through the television.

Ruangkhao Chanchai, a 25-year-old investment banker, said she was watching Kofi Annan giving a speech in New York on CNN at 10.20pm.

"Suddenly I saw a breaking news announcement that said troops were moving into Bangkok," she said.

"I turned to the Thai television channels but there was no ‘live’ news on what was happening. I’m shocked. I don’t know what is going on. All I know is that the Prime Minister has declared a state of emergency," Ruangkhao added.

By 11pm, Thai television channels announced that the anti-Thaksin military faction had taken over.

Army-owned Channel 15 interrupted regular broadcasts with patriotic music and pictures of the King.

A Malaysian, who stayed at Chaophya Park Hotel near the international airport, said the CNN transmission at the hotel seemed to "have been jammed".

At 2am, The Nation was informed by the Thai military that all telecommunication and internet connections in the country would be shut down in two hours’ time.

For now, many Thais appeared thankful that the coup, the first military intervention in Thai politics since 1992, had been a bloodless one although many were unsure what would take place over the next 24 hours.

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