Thai Leader Ousted During Trip to United Nations Thailand's army has taken control of Bangkok in an apparent bloodless coup timed to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's visit to the United States. Military leaders revoked the constitution, but they have also promised a return to democracy.
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Thai Leader Ousted During Trip to United Nations

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Thai Leader Ousted During Trip to United Nations

Thai Leader Ousted During Trip to United Nations

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

In Thailand today the army launched a coup, revoked the constitution and declared martial law nationwide. Army tanks circled the offices of the Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, in the capital of Bangkok.

The coup came while Prime Minister Thaksin is in New York for the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. A spokesman for the Thai government in New York tried to downplay today's coup, saying some of the military officials came out and tried to make a coup attempt but we confirmed they cannot succeed. Now we are in control.

William Barnes is in Bangkok covering the story for The Financial Times and Mr. Barnes, you have the government of the prime minister in New York saying we are in control. From your vantage point there in Bangkok, who is actually in control?

Mr. WILLIAM BARNES (Reporter, The Financial Times): I would say the coup plotters, because I was around Bangkok tonight and there were tanks around the political area of the city full of soldiers looking quite relaxed, with the royal yellow colors tied to their guns. So I would think those guys are in control.

BLOCK: And has this been a bloodless coup, so far at least?

Mr. BARNES: Absolutely bloodless, yes. I mean there were tourists taking pictures of the soldiers and the tanks and chatting to the soldiers. The army spokesman seemed to be extremely relaxed when he came on television and said simply that this had to be done because the political situation was getting out of control. So far it seems fairly relaxed.

Whether there is some faction within the army that will move in support of the prime minister is another matter, but the betting is that there isn't anyone who is going to move on his behalf.

BLOCK: Let's talk about what led up to this. There were large protests earlier this year. The prime minister dissolved Parliament, called early elections in April. Those results were then annulled. What's behind the unrest that eventually led to this coup?

Mr. BARNES: A lot of the people in Bangkok, a lot of the intellectuals, the media, the old political powers, loathe the prime minister because they think he cheats. They think he's corrupt. They think he's just in power to make money.

What happened was that at the beginning of the year he sold the key part of his business empire to Singapore for a profit of $1.9 billion, tax free. And really ever since then the prime minister has been fighting for his political life. This coup has happened because there is going to be an election next month and despite all the criticism of the prime minister, there's still a good chance that he'll win that election, at least there would have been if it had gone ahead.

BLOCK: When the army staged this coup they pledged loyalty to the 78-year-old Thai king. What's his role in this? Has there been any statement from him?

Mr. BARNES: That is a very delicate question. I actually talked to someone in the palace tonight and they were very calm, seemed to know a lot about what was going on and said don't worry, things are going to be sorted out. And I asked bluntly well, does the king approve? And he said that's not a question I can even hear. That's not a question I can entertain.

It's very important to realize that the king is a God-like figure in Thailand. I think the coup leaders are succeeding in persuading people that the king is not adverse to what's happened and I think that will be a powerful reason why Mr. Thaksin will be unable to get back into power or reverse what's happened.

BLOCK: A practical question here. The prime minister is in New York. What happens to him? Does he come back to Thailand and if he does, what happens?

Mr. BARNES: I don't really know. I mean, if you want to be cynical about it, his key problem now is how to get hold of his money. Most of his profits are in Thailand. The cynics afford that one of the reasons why he has been reluctant to let go of power, to walk away from Parliament, is that he needs to keep an eye on that money. He needs to stop the investigations into how he got hold of it to stop people taking it away. So I think the prime minister has a lot of problems.

BLOCK: William Barnes of The Financial Times in Bangkok, speaking with us about today's military coup in Thailand. Mr. Barnes, thanks very much.

Mr. BARNES: It's been a pleasure.

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