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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2006, 22:39 GMT 23:39 UK
Surreal scenes on streets of Bangkok
By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Bangkok

Supporters of the coup d'etat stand in front of a military tank in Bangkok
Most of the people on the streets appear to support the coup d'etat
On the streets of Bangkok, people were bewildered. It was the middle of the night, yet soldiers and tanks were out in force, and change was in the air.

Many streets were completely deserted, but in others small crowds gathered, with everyone asking the same, simple question: "What's happening?"

Coup rumours were circulating for hours before anything was confirmed, but with international news channels off the air and Thai stations playing nothing but images of the royal family, few people knew for sure what was going on.

"I am interested in knowing what's happening, and that's why I am here," said one street vendor, making her way to the tanks surrounding Government House.

"It's the first time in my life that I saw a tank," she said excitedly.

Photo opportunity

Others were more nervous. One man clammed up as soon as I told him I was a journalist, saying he was too scared of what was happening to make any comments.

Danish tourist Jannick Bondrop and his girlfriend
To see this is a once in a lifetime opportunity
Jannick Bondrop, Danish tourist

But overall the mood was amazingly calm, considering that a coup had just taken place to oust the country's charismatic leader, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The soldiers posted around the city waved and smiled at people passing by, even posing with local people for photographs next to their tanks.

Supporters of the coup cheered, waving national flags and shouting "Thaksin out". Even local tourists joined in, treating the evening's events as an extra, unexpected photo opportunity.

"I found out about this when my parents rang and told me," said Danish tourist Jannick Bondrop. "They were worried for me, but I'm not afraid. To see this is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Rural hinterland

Despite the relaxed atmosphere, the soldiers were in no mood to talk about why they had suddenly stationed themselves around the city.

"We don't know why we've been ordered here," said one soldier, who would not give his name. "I can't say anything else - we've been told to say nothing."

Thaksin was especially good for the poorer people of Thailand
Mr Samat, taxi driver

Most of the people on the streets appear to be supporters of the coup.

"I'm glad the military has come to control the situation. Thaksin has caused problems for this country," said Wanchai Sithikorn, a local businessman, echoing a common view among those milling around Government House.

This is hardly surprising, as the country has long been divided into the mainly pro-Thaksin rural population and the anti-Thaksin urban elite.

One lone Thaksin supporter I spoke to, taxi driver Mr Samat, said: "I like Thaksin's policies because he has done many good things for this country that other prime ministers didn't do.

"He was especially good for the poorer people of Thailand."

With all the accusations and anger against Mr Thaksin in Bangkok, the coup is likely to be welcomed by the majority of the city.

But the news is likely to be taken entirely differently in the rural hinterland - and only time will tell whether Mr Thaksin is really gone from Thailand's political scene for good.






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