BANGKOK, Thailand - The army commander who seized
Thailand's government in a quick, bloodless coup pledged Wednesday to hold
elections by October 2007, and received a ringing endorsement from the country's
Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin also hinted that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra may face prosecution.
Thailand's Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sondhi
Boonyaratkalin listens to a reporter's questions in Bangkok Wednesday,
Sept. 20, 2006. The army general who ousted Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra indicated Wednesday that the fallen leader could be prosecuted
for wrongdoing and said a post-coup interim government would retain power
for no more than one year. Transitional government to be formed in
Thailand after two weeks, following coup, says Gen. Sondhi.
Sondhi said he would act as prime minister for two weeks until a new leader
is chosen by the Council of Administrative Reform, that an interim constitution
would be drafted within that time, and that Thailand's foreign policy and
international agreements would remain unchanged.
Australia called the coup a "great disappointment," while Japan urged the
quick restoration of democracy. The European Union condemned the military
takeover, while Washington expressed concern about it. The United States,
Britain and other nations also warned their citizens in Thailand to exercise
King Bhumibol Adulyadej appointed Sondhi as head of the council "in order to
create peace in the country," according to an announcement on state-run
"All people should remain peaceful and civil servants should listen to orders
from Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin from now on," it said.
Sondhi led a precision takeover overnight without firing a shot, sending
soldiers and tanks to guard major intersections and surround government
buildings while the popularly elected Thaksin, accused of corruption and
undermining democratic institutions, was in New York attending the U.N. General
Asked at a news conference if there would be moves to confiscate Thaksin's
vast assets, Sondhi said that "those who have committed wrongdoings have to be
prosecuted according to the law." He did not elaborate.
In launching Thailand's first coup in 15 years, Sondhi said on nationwide
television that the overthrow was needed "in order to resolve the conflict and
bring back normalcy and harmony among people."
"I am the one who decided to stage the coup. No one supported me," he said.
Sondhi, 59, known to be close to the king, is a Muslim in a
State-run television also said the new leaders had dismissed the state audit
commissioners and given additional powers to the auditor general Jaruvan
Maintaka to investigative government corruption. Analysts said the move is
expected to make it easier for Jaruvan to investigate allegations of corruption
involving Thaksin and his ministers and could eventually lead to the
confiscation of his assets.
The British Foreign Office said Thaksin was to arrive Wednesday in London on
a private visit. A spokeswoman for Gatwick Airport said a chartered Thai Airways
jet was due to land there around noon EDT.
The Thai Embassy in London said it had no immediate information on Thaksin's
A British government spokesman said Thaksin had no meetings scheduled with
Prime Minister Tony Blair or other officials.
Bangkok, a city of more than 10 million, was calm Wednesday. Most stores were
open and residents appeared unfazed, with traffic running as normal and the
tanks becoming popular tourist attractions.
About 500 people gathered outside army headquarters to lend moral support to
the military, chanting "Thaksin get out!"
But in the first sign of anti-coup sentiment, Thaksin supporters faced off
with rival groups celebrating the coup at two separate gatherings in Bangkok.
Soldiers intervened, narrowly averting clashes.
The council put the country under martial law and declared a provisional
authority loyal to the king, seizing television and radio stations and ordering
government offices, banks, schools and the stock market to close for the day.
The unexpected coup rattled Asian financial markets and pressured the Thai
baht and other regional currencies, though its economic repercussions remained
Nearly 20 tanks ¡ª their machine gun barrels festooned with ribbons in the
royal color of yellow ¡ª had blocked off the Royal Palace, Royal Plaza, army
headquarters and Thaksin's office at Government House.
In the afternoon, the tanks began shifting from positions in downtown
Bangkok. It was not immediately clear whether the tanks were withdrawing, or
merely changing positions. Government public relations officials said they could
not immediately comment.
Asked whether there would be moves to confiscate Thaksin's vast assets,
Sondhi said that "those who have committed wrongdoings have to be prosecuted
according to the law." He did not elaborate.
The Nation newspaper in Bangkok said several senior government officials and
others close to Thaksin had been arrested, their fates unknown.
It said they included Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit and
Thaksin's top aide Prommin Lertsuridej.
Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, one of Thaksin's closest political
associates, fled to Paris with her family, it said.
In Washington, the State Department said it was uneasy about the military
takeover and hoped "the Thai people will resolve their political differences in
accord with democratic principles and the rule of law."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard described the coup as a "great
disappointment," adding that it was a reminder of an element of Asia's past he
had hoped would not return. "We condemn military coups," Howard said. "They are
a throwback to a past I had hoped Asia had emerged from."
Japan also called for the quick restoration of democracy in a country where
many of its top businesses have factories and affiliates.
The European Union joined condemnation of the coup and said "the military
forces stand back and give way to the democratically elected political
China described the coup as "an internal affair of Thailand" and made no
public judgment. "The friendly relations between China and Thailand will
continue to develop," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.
The International Monetary Fund, which bailed Thailand and some of its
neighbors out of a financial crisis in the late 1990s, was closely watching the
situation but believed the region would be little affected, said the IMF's
chief, Rodrigo de Rato.
"Thailand's economy is fundamentally strong," de Rato said.
The U.S. Embassy, in an e-mail to its citizens living in Thailand, said while
there had been no reports of violence, Americans should "monitor the situation
closely, avoid any large gatherings and exercise discretion when moving about
"At this point, we are not advising Americans to leave Thailand; however,
Americans planning to travel to Thailand may wish to carefully consider their
options before traveling until the situation becomes clearer," the e-mail read.
Britain told its citizens in Thailand to stay in their homes, while Japan,
Australia and Canada similarly advised caution.
Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon before entering politics, handily won
three general elections since coming to power in 2001 and garnered great support
among the rural poor for his populist policies.
But he alienated the urban middle class, intellectuals and pro-democracy
activists. They began mass street demonstrations last year, charging him with
abuse of power, corruption and emasculation of democratic institutions,
including media that were once among Asia's freest.
The bloodless coup was the first overt military intervention in Thailand
since 1991, when Suchinda Kraprayoon, a military general, toppled a civilian
government in a bloodless takeover. He was ousted in 1992 following street