Calm amid the coup
Bangkok residents say life goes on despite army takeover
Thailand's military coup yesterday may have plunged the nation into political uncertainty.
Amid the sight of armed soldiers in the streets of Bangkok, Singaporean Michelle Hewitson said a "strange calm" has descended on the Thai capital after a six-month-long political struggle between rival factions.
"At the moment, we have no direct impact from the martial law or the coup," the 30-year-old, who moved to Bangkok with her husband last October, told The New Paper.
"Generally, everyone here is more cautious but the situation is calm. However, the traffic situation has been crazy because everyone is rushing home to beat the curfew," she added.
"My husband was stuck on the road for two hours. Normally, it would have taken him only 10 minutes to drive home."
Yesterday, Thailand's army chief seized power after ordering rival protesters off the streets and deposing the government in a bid to end months of political bloodshed, reported AFP.
General Prayut Chan-ocha made the announcement in a televised address to the nation, saying the armed forces had to act to restore stability in the South-east Asian nation.
The military also declared a nationwide curfew from 10pm to 5am and ordered demonstrators on both sides of the kingdom's political divide to disperse and go home after more than six months of political rallies in the capital. (See report below.)
It is the 12th military coup d'etat in Thailand since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, reported the Bangkok Post.
Singaporean Steven Lim, 40, who works in Bangkok, said it was still "business as usual here" despite the curfew.
The former actor has lived in Bangkok for the last seven months, working as a project development manager for a lifestyle company.
He added: "When I got home from work yesterday evening, the streets were normal and shops were still open.
"It's not like people are panicking on the streets of Bangkok, people are going about their lives as usual because nobody is sure what's going to happen."
Bangkok resident and Thai national Mongkorn Timkul, 40, told TNP that life in Thailand now is shrouded with uncertainty.
"With the military clampdown, things are sure to get tense. That always happens," he said.
Singaporean Adrian Lim, 26, who returned from Bangkok yesterday, told TNP at Changi Airport that "nothing dangerous" happened during the six days he was there on holiday.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last night that Singapore had expressed "grave concern" over the latest developments in Thailand.
In a statement last night, it added: "We hope that all parties involved will exercise restraint and work towards a positive outcome, and avoid violence and bloodshed.
"Thailand is an important regional country and a key member of Asean. Prolonged uncertainties will set back Thailand and the region as a whole. As a close friend of Thailand, we hope that the situation will return to normal as soon as possible."
- Additional reporting by Goh Yan Han and Gregory Loo
It's not like people are panicking on the streets of Bangkok, people are going about their lives as usual because nobody is sure what's going to happen.
- Former actor Steven Lim, who now lives in Bangkok
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.