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Coup declared

TAKEOVER: Thailand's army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, leaving the Army Club after a meeting with all rival political factions in Bangkok yesterday. - PHOTO: REUTERS

The Thai military could not have planned the coup any better.

It got the main protest leaders into one room before detaining them and making the televised statement yesterday.

Army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, had summoned the rival factions in the country's drawn-out political conflict, apparently with the aim of finding a solution to the six months of anti-government protests, Reuters reported.

Soon after the announcement, the army also issued the following orders:

• The constitution has been suspended

• Cabinet ministers are to report to a military base north of Bangkok

• All TV and radio broadcasting suspended and only army bulletins will be shown. This ban includes foreign broadcasters such as CNN, BBC and CNBC.

• Political gatherings of more than five have been banned

• A nationwide curfew will operate from 10pm to 5am local time

Bangkok daily The Nation tweeted that schools in Thailand have been ordered shut for some days.

MARTIAL LAW 'NEEDED'

The military took control two days ago after it declared martial law. It said this was necessary to restore order and push through reforms after six months of turmoil.

Twenty-eight people have been killed and 700 injured since the anti-government protests erupted late last year.

Mr Kan Yuanyong, of the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank, told Reuters: "Martial law may have been to test the waters. The army gave the opposing camps a chance to negotiate a way out, but I think the endgame was always the military taking over.

"The possibility of conflict is now much higher. (Former prime minister) Thaksin will fight back."

But for Bangkok residents, the most pressing concern was getting home safely before the night-time curfew kicked in, AFP reported.

Commuters rushed through the city's congested streets as public transport prepared to shut down ahead of the army-ordered curfew.

"I'm afraid the BTS (skytrain) will close," said 33-year-old Waritha Muensri, hurrying to an overground train station in the heart of the city.

The coup and curfew also left tourists rattled.

"I want to be safe in my hostel before 10pm," said Miss Katinka Nauta, a Dutch student on her first day in Bangkok. "I'm shocked how quiet everything is, there are no tourists. It's a bit scary. I've never experienced anything like this before."

But among the locals, there was little sign of tension in a laid-back city accustomed to curfews, coups and political turmoil.