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Thai coup lite worries few on streets of Bangkok

September 20, 2006

Thai coup lite worries few on streets of Bangkok

By Vissuta Pothong

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's latest army putsch looked more like coup-lite on Wednesday with no violence and foreign tourists seemingly oblivious to the troops and tanks roaming the streets of Bangkok. 

"We heard something was going on and we just watched a little bit on CNN," 22-year-old Israeli Yael Rachmani told Reuters on Khao San Road, Bangkok's famed backpacker terminus. 

A tank moves past the Government House in Bangkok September 19, 2006. Thailand's latest army putsch looked more like coup-lite on Wednesday with no violence and foreign tourists seemingly oblivious to the troops and tanks roaming the streets of Bangkok. (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)
"Nothing to worry about. We are used to the situation." 

Thai troops seized control of the sprawling capital of 10 million people on Tuesday night, ousting Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra while he was in New York. 

Tanks and armoured vehicles swiftly took up positions at key points across the city, while television stations broadcast a brief statement declaring martial law and apologising "for any inconvenience". 

Some restaurants and shops closed in the initial confusion, but for most of the night it was business as usual in Bangkok. 

With no curfew, bargirls continued to serve up cold beers along Patpong, the notorious strip of go-go bars. 

Foreign news channels such as CNN and BBC were taken off the air after several hours of broadcasting news of the coup. 

Instead of imposing other restrictions under martial law, the coup leaders declared Wednesday a government and market holiday to help maintain calm. Schools will also be closed. 

Don Muang airport, one of Asia's busiest air terminals, remained open and there were no reports of flight cancellations to Thailand, which relies heavily on tourism and draws some 12 million visitors a year. 

"I'm a little nervous, a little uneasy," said Troy Hammond, 25, who was due to fly back to Toronto, Canada on Wednesday. 

"This is my first experience, but I don't think it will do me any harm," he added. 

Bangkok's notorious traffic was still flowing despite monsoon rains and military checkpoints. Some curious motorists stopped to get a better look at the country's 18th coup since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. 

"I'm not surprised this happened," said Kampana Kongmeung, a small business owner who joined a handful of onlookers outside Government House where tanks surrounded Thaksin's offices. 

"This will solve the political crisis, but this is not going to be good for the economy," he said, referring to the months-old deadlock between Thaksin and his enemies who accuse him of corruption and subverting democracy. 

"It's not good that Thaksin is out because he helped this country and he did a lot for the poor," he said. 

But Supachai Wititworasuk, a 42-year-old trader, said ousting the billionaire telecoms tycoon was the right thing to do. 

"This is good because this government is corrupt. They have been selling out Thailand," Supachai told Reuters. 

"This is a problem now, but it will be good for the country." 

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