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Thailand’s acting president overthrown

By Denis D. Gray The Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand – In the dead of night and without firing a shot, Thailand’s military overthrew popularly elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday amid mounting criticism that he had undermined democracy.

The sudden, well-orchestrated coup – the first in 15 years and a throwback to an unsettled era in Thailand – was likely to spark both enthusiasm and criticism at home and abroad. The military said it would soon return power to a democratic government but did not say when.

Striking when Thaksin was in New York at the U.N. General Assembly, army commander Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin sent tanks and troops into the drizzly, nighttime streets of Bangkok. The military ringed Thaksin’s offices, seized control of television stations and declared a provisional authority loyal to the king.

On Wednesday, in his firstpublic appearance since seizing power, Sondhi asked for the public’s support and declared the coup was necessary to end serious conflicts within Thai society that Thaksin had created.

“We would like to reaffirm that we don’t have any intention to rule the country and will return power to the Thai people as soon as possible,” he said a brief television address. He was flanked by the three armed forces chiefs and the head of the national police force.

The coup leaders declared martial law, revoked the constitution and ordered all troops not to leave duty stations without permission from their commanders. The stock exchange was to be closed Wednesday, along with schools, banks and government offices.

Bangkok’s normally bustling streets emptied out early today, from shopping stalls to red light districts, as Thais and tourists learned of the coup.

Across the capital, Thais who trickled out onto barren streets welcomed the surprise turn of events as a necessary climax to months of demands for Thaksin to resign amid allegations of corruption, electoral skullduggery and a worsening Muslim insurgency. Many people were surprised, but few in Bangkok seemed disappointed.

A few dozen people raced over to the prime minister’s office to take pictures of some 20 tanks surrounding the area _ many with yellow ribbons tied around their barrels to reflect the color of the anti-Thaksin protests. “This is exciting. Someone had to do this. It’s the right thing,” said Somboon Sukheviriya, 45, software developer snapping pictures of the armored vehicles with his cell phone.

The U.S. State Department said it was uneasy about the military takeover and hopes political differences can be resolved through democratic principles. “We are monitoring the situation with concern,” a statement said. “We continue to hope that the Thai people will resolve their political differences in accord with democratic principles and the rule of law.”

Japan and New Zealand criticized the coup. Australia used stronger language, saying it was concerned to see democracy “destroyed.”

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