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How the military seized control in Thailand

The Age logo The Age 23/05/2014 Lindsay Murdoch
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The signal for the coup stunned political leaders from rival groups who were sitting in a curtained room in Bangkok's Army Club.

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They had seen that army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha meant business when he imposed martial law on Tuesday and summoned them to sit together for the first time to discuss Thailand's political crisis that has dragged on for six months, leaving 30 people dead and hundreds injured. But most took him at his word that he was not staging a coup, even when on Wednesday night he angrily snapped that they would have to reach an agreement, and gave them homework to do before returning.

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Halfway through yesterday's meeting armed soldiers stormed inside the building.

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Most of the participants were detained, led to waiting vans and taken to an undisclosed location, probably a military barracks.

Even their families were not told where they were.

Within the hour thousands of troops were deploying across Bangkok, storming television stations and newspaper offices and setting up sandbagged check points.

General Prayuth, sitting next to the stern-faced military's top brass, announced the coup on television.

A burst of what sounded like gunfire rang out near the camp of pro-government Red Shirts on the western outskirts of Bangkok, sending people scurrying for cover.

Soldiers told the Red Shirts to disperse: many panicked, leaving behind their belongings.

Soldiers also arrived at the camp of anti-government protesters near Bangkok's Democracy Monument who have been campaigning for six months to topple of the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, who was forced to resign earlier in the month by a controversial ruling of the Constitutional Court.

They cheered when they were told of the coup.

But they too were told to disperse.

Troops were also sent to detain and take away key members of the deposed government and opposition figures.

Some were seized at their home.

The army named caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan first on a list of 17 people who must present themselves to the military.

Mr Niwatthamrong's whereabouts were not immediately known.

As television stations were ordered off the air and broadcast military songs people rushed from their places of work to get home before the start of the 10pm-5am curfew.

In previous coups curfews had been confined to Bangkok.

The city's roads were choked and crowds jostled to get on packed trains and buses.

Analysts say it appears that General Prayuth, who is a confidant of royal palace insiders and power establishment figures in Bangkok, has moved to consolidate the power of the country’s conservative forces at a time of deep anxiety over ailing 86-year king Bhumibol Adulyadej and the inevitable royal succession.

General Prayuth appointed himself head of a military council, or junta, with full powers to run the country.

He suspended the 2007 constitution.

Analysts expect General Prayuth to allow the anti-government Senate, or upper house, to act for the parliament and appoint a new prime minister.

The lower house of parliament has not been functioning for months.

Whoever gets the nod is likely to be close to the palace.

Analysts expect the junta government will run Thailand for up to two years while a new constitution is drafted.

The Red Shirts, enraged at the removal of the government that was elected in a landslide victory in 2011, will carry out the threats they have made and go underground, analysts say.

There is likely to be unrest, possibly an insurgency launched from bases in north and north-eastern provinces, they say.

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