BANGKOK, Sept 19 - The Thai armed forces seized power on Tuesday without firing a shot, dismissed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's government, revoked the constitution and promised a swift return to democracy after political reforms.
Military tanks surround the Government House in Bangkok September 19, 2006. [Reuters]
General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, overwhelmingly Buddhist Thailand's first Muslim army commander-in-chief, took the reins of power without a government title.
A coup spokesman said Thaksin was being ousted to resolve a nearly year-long political deadlock and stop "rampant corruption".
Initially, Thaksin tried to head off the coup by telephoning a Thai television station from New York to announce a state of emergency.
The transmission stopped after 10 minutes while he was still talking, but his spokesman said the army could not succeed and "we're in control".
Within hours, however, Thaksin cancelled the speech he was to give to the UN General Assembly and spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee told Reuters by telephone the situation had changed and Thaksin was "considering whether to return to Thailand".
A coup spokesman said the army and police were in firm control after tanks and troops took over Government House in Thailand's first coup in 15 years but its 18th since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
The heads of the armed forces went to the palace to report to King Bhumibol Adulyadej in a motorcade broadcast on television, a move likely to dampen any agitation in the countryside where Thaksin's support is strong but the King is revered.
Television also showed documentaries of King Bhumibol in the countryside, promoting his development projects which have added to the reverence in which he is held.
That was designed to reinforce the military's insistence it was acting for the good of the country which he embodies.
Armoured vehicles and soldiers took up position on many street corners, but life in most of Bangkok continued much as usual with traffic moving through rain drenched streets and the airport operating normally.
The seizure would be temporary and power "returned to the people" soon, coup spokesman retired Lieutenant-General Prapart Sakuntanak said on all Thai television channels.
"Never in Thai history have the people been so divided," Prapart said.
"The majority of people had become suspicious of this administration, which is running the country through rampant corruption," he added.
"Independent bodies have been interfered with so much they could not perform in line within the spirit of the constitution."
The army told all soldiers to report to base and banned unauthorised troop movements, suggesting the military leadership was worried that Thaksin loyalists might attempt a counter-coup.