View of the Thailand Coup from Phuket

Lynn Neary talks to Simon Hand, editor of the Phuket Post, about the effect of Thailand's military coup on the tourist-oriented Thai island of Phuket.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

The U.S. embassy in Bangkok is not advising Americans living in Thailand to leave, but it is suggesting that those planning to travel there should carefully consider their options. Several other nations, including Britain, Japan and Australia, have issued similar warnings.

So far there have been no reports of violence across Thailand and the impact of the coup on the country's important tourism industry appears minimal. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand is the southern island of Phuket.

Simon Hand is managing editor of the Phuket Post newspaper. He joins us now.

Thanks for being with us, Mr. Hand.

Mr. SIMON HAND (Managing Editor, Phuket Post, Thailand): Well, it's nice to be there.

NEARY: I understand your paper had an interesting headline in response to the coup. I Wonder if you could tell us what it was?

Mr. HAND: Well, I've literally just come off of the beach in Patong, which is three miles of golden white sand, and it's fairly packed with tourists all enjoying themselves. And our headline for the next issue will be Coup? What Coup?

NEARY: So there's been no affect on tourism there at all. I mean, how are people responding to the news of the coup?

Mr. HAND: Well, you have to bear in mind that we're well over 800 kilometers away from the capital and almost equal number of kilometers away from the trouble in the south of Thailand as well.

But we haven't really found many effects at all. There's a little bit of increased security at the border checkpoints and at the airport. That's all.

NEARY: Maybe you could just describe a little bit more what it's like in Phuket at the moment?

Mr. HAND: Well, directly after the coup there wasn't a lot of information coming out of government TV. Channels were showing tape-recorded programs. The international press lines - BBC, CNN - were also closed off from cutting through. But as of last night, that all came back online again. The banks were all closed yesterday as well, and I think probably for the best part, stopped people making a rush on all the banks and drawing all that money out.

But now everything is back to normal. People are shopping like crazy. Bars are open. They've actually - one of the things that has happened - last night in Patong, which is our main tourist area, all the bars cut back on the sales tax and VAT tax from their bills and gave away cheap drinks. So they were serving Thaksin tequilas and coup cocktails. So that was quite an interesting night and everybody was enjoying themselves immensely.

NEARY: And of course tourism is very important to Thailand's economy, is it not?

Mr. HAND: It's quite important, yes. I think it's perhaps more important to Phuket than most other areas. There's quite a lot of other trade, but it's certainly the most visible of the money earners.

NEARY: And you were saying that you were on the beach and that everything looked completely normal after this coup. But are people talking about it at all?

Mr. HAND: Oh, yes, of course. There's an awful lot of chat going on around wondering what's going to happen next, a lot of debate as to why it happened as well. Most people here are very pro-democracy, but I think that many of the people, particularly the Thais, were becoming - getting to the point where they wanted to see some sort of a change.

I noticed that there was a comment from your deputy secretary for state where he said that the coup was a step backwards for democracy. Well, I feel like a lot of people here would say in fact democracy's been working backwards for something like eight or nine months now. So it was time something had to happen. It's unfortunate it happened in this (unintelligible), but I think that ultimately it will turn out to be a new (unintelligible) for Thailand.

NEARY: And although of course, as you've described, tourism has not been affected in Phuket right now, things obviously very quiet there, going on as normal. But is there any concern that down the road the political situation could have an effect, a negative effect?

Mr. HAND: Well, I think it depends what happens next. It's already been two days since the coup. Everything seems to be fairly calm and there's been an acceptance I feel amongst local people that this was - something like this was to happen.

As to what happens next, it really is I think in the hands of former Prime Minister Thaksin. If he decides to, he could cause a lot of trouble here, which I think would probably be against the best interests of the country.

NEARY: Thanks so much for talking with us, Mr. Hand.

Mr. HAND: Well, thank you very much.

NEARY: Simon Hand is managing editor of The Phuket Post.

INSKEEP: And we do have one signal this morning of the former prime minister's intentions. Thaksin Shinawatra has released a statement from London, as reported by the Reuters news service.

The statement does not, as far as we know, indicate any intention to come back and fight for power. Thaksin Shinawatra does say that he thinks elections should be arranged quickly and all parties should work toward national reconciliation. He goes on to say from London that he plans to take a deserved rest and work on research development and possible charitable work for Thailand

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