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Armed forces and national police take over government

Bangkok Post | September 19, 2006

Troops loyal to army chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin last night staged a coup d'etat to oust caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was in New York and due to address the United Nations General Assembly. The coup makers called themselves the Democratic Reform Council, led by Gen Sonthi. In an announcement flashed across national television, they said they comprised the commanders of the three armed forces and the national police chief.

The council cited unprecedented division in the country, widespread suspicion of abuse of power, and activities bordering on lese majeste for taking power for a period they promised would be temporary.

Tanks and troops of the Fourth Cavalry Battalion moved into Government House and other strategic points in Bangkok, including the Royal Plaza.

The coup came after Mr Thaksin declared a state of emergency in Bangkok.

In a statement relayed from New York and carried by Channel 9, he sacked the army chief and put the armed forces supreme commander, Gen Ruengroj Mahasaranont, in charge of enforcing the state of emergency. Both were to report to Pol Gen Chidchai Wannasathit, caretaker Deputy Prime Minister whom Mr Thaksin named as acting prime minister.

The council said it had the situation under control and there was no resistance.

As of press time, it was not known how long the council would remain in power and when it would appoint an interim government.

The council revoked the State of Emergency declared by Mr Thaksin and imposed martial law at around 12.30.

Shortly afterwards, the council abrogated the 1997 constitution, dissolved the Constitution Court, the caretaker government and the Senate.

The council was reported to be based at army headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Nok avenue.

The council was reported to have blocked the website of a so-called fake media outlet calling itself The Reporter.

Mr Thaksin's statement was relayed at about 10.20 pm but was disrupted around 10 minutes later.

Sources later told the Bangkok Post that troops had burst into the offices of Channel 9 and told the station officers to stop running the statement.

Sources said Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda yesterday tried to mediate between troops loyal to the army chief and another army faction loyal to Mr Thaksin.

During the talks, Gen Prem was reported to have been summoned to the Royal Palace. Nothing more was known.

The council leaders were also summoned to the palace late last night.

Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkol were all in New York with Mr Thaksin.

Prime Minister's Office Minister Newin Chidchob, Khunying Potjaman Shinawatra and her son Panthongtae left for Singapore at about 9.00 pm.

Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan and Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak are currently in France, and are likely to postpone their return.

Pol Gen Chidchai, Defence Minister Thammarak Isarangkura na Ayudhaya, Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapanlop, Social Welfare Minister Wattana Muangsuk, PM's Office Minister Suranand Vejjajiva were reportedly at home at the time.

A cabinet source said the armed forces and police decided to stage the coup to avert a possible clash between an anti-Thaksin rally that the People's Alliance for Democracy planned to stage today, and members of the forestry police.

The source said the forestry police based at Khao Yai National Park were due to move into Bangkok today to quash the PAD-led protests.

The forestry police are equipped with HK 33 rifles and well trained for confrontations with the protesters.

The army last month asked the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department to return around 1,000 rifles, which were loaned to forest rangers several years ago. But Gen Sonthi at the time downplayed the political implications of a plan to take back of the rifles, saying the army was in dire need of weapons.

The source said several cabinet ministers had been alerted about the coup yesterday afternoon and many started to pack their belongings and left their offices for good.

In New York, government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee denied the coup had been successful, saying the seizure of TV station headquarters did not guarantee its success. Seizing power by means of a coup was no longer acceptable in the modern world.

He said the coup makers comprised people losing power and benefits but he refused to be specific. Mr Surapong denied the coup had anything to do with the military reshuffle, saying consideration of the reshuffle list had not been on Mr Thaksin's recent agenda.

He said Pol Gen Chidchai was not under arrest, as rumoured, because he had just spoken to him on the phone.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) is poised to face mass selling in today's trading amid fears that there could be a counter coup by supporters of Mr Thaksin, analysts said.


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