Tourists caught up in coup as Thailand goes into lockdown
A nationwide curfew was imposed across Thailand yesterday emptying streets of their population, closing down bars, businesses and restaurants and forcing tens of thousands at tourist resorts across the country to remain in their hotels.
The dramatic move followed the Thai military's declaration of martial law, defying international pressure by taking over a civilian government which was entrenched in political deadlock.
The head of the military, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, appeared on television, flanked by other armed services chiefs and proclaimed the army would act to resolve those political divisions that have paralysed the state for almost a decade.
Within hours of his appearance TV and radio stations were blocked with the reported threat of an internet and social media blackout to come.
Tourists were greeted by fleets of vehicles commandeered to ferry visitors after the 10pm start of the curfew between airports and hotels.
The Pentagon announced it had placed military ties with Thailand under review as officials condemned the move. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said there was no justification for the takeover, adding the coup would have "negative implications" for the US-Thai relationship.
The 12th coup since Thailand abandoned the absolute monarchy in 1932 came amid a protracted political crisis involving supporters and opponents of the former prime minister, exiled Thaksin Shinawatra.
Mr Thaksin was turfed out of power in the last military coup in 2006 and has been in exile since 2008. His Red shirt allies continue to win elections despite the violent opposition of the rival Yellow shirts.
The new regime suspended Thailand's constitution, except the articles "pertaining to monarchy", according to one of a series of announcements, which also saw the cabinet and the senate dissolved. All authority in Thailand was assumed by a National Peace and Order Maintenance Council, comprised of the leaders of the various branches of the Thai armed forces and the police.
News was suspended and foreign channels, including CNN and the BBC, were removed from cable services.
The announcement that citizens should not go outdoors between 10pm and 5am triggered confusion in Bangkok.
Long lines formed at the city's elevated train and subway stations as office workers tried to rush home before the curfew.
Tourists used Twitter to update traffic conditions, indicating that the congestion continued hours after the curfew started.
Pictures of the capital's Khao San Road showed the tourist thoroughfare deserted.
In the big tourist resorts around the country, implementation of the curfew varied but was generally observed.
"Chiang Mai is mostly shut down now, though. Most bars closed, very few taxis," wrote Canadian Derek Neumeier.
Gen Prayuth made the coup announcement following an unproductive conference of all rival factions to find a way of ending the latest bout of anti-government protests.
Gen Prayuth had demanded that closed-door talks that started on Wednesday hammer out a compromise between pro-and anti-government factions hinging on the appointment of an interim prime minister, political reforms and the timing of an election. (© Daily Telegraph, London)