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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 September 2006, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Q&A: Thailand's coup impact
Soldiers in Bangkok 20/9/06
Gen Sonthi says he plans a return to democracy
A military coup in Thailand has seen the ousting of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Why did the coup happen now?

Mr Thaksin, who came to power in 2001, has proved a controversial and divisive leader.

Although he was extremely popular with Thailand's rural poor, his abrasive style and huge wealth won him many enemies and appeared to split the nation.

Mounting protests earlier this year undermined his position.

But it was his easy victory in April's general election - subsequently declared invalid - that may have prompted the generals to act.

Their assessment may have been that since Mr Thaksin's wealth and politically dominant Thai Rak Thai party made him electorally unbeatable, a coup was the only way to get rid of him.

All that remained was to choose a date. With new elections set for later this year, they seem to have decided to act swiftly, taking advantage of the fact he was out of the country at the UN's General Assembly.

What does it mean for Thailand?

That depends on how long the military holds on to power.

The coup's leader, Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, said he wanted to restore democracy after a year, once a new constitution had been written.

If that timetable is achieved, many Thais will probably give a sigh of relief.

But there will be real worries that Gen Sonthi, like previous coup leaders, may find it hard to give up power - or rebuild democracy to the military's liking - so quickly.

The longer he stays, the greater the risk that the same groups who protested in their thousands against the "autocratic" Mr Thaksin will turn their frustration on the high-minded military.

What does the coup mean for the region?

It is a severe setback.

Thailand had not suffered a coup in 15 years, and had started to boast about being a stable democracy at the heart of South East Asia.

Now, as pictures flash around the world of tanks in central Bangkok, the country's institutions have again been proved to be flimsy, and its military shown up to be still untrusting of democracy and its conflicts.

The coup is also bad news for Western hopes of change in Thailand's neighbour, Burma.

Thailand is one of the few countries with real influence over Burma's repressive military junta.

But Gen Sonthi is hardly likely to press Burma's leaders to introduce democracy, and they will see his coup as a justification for inaction.

What about Thailand's economy?

As well as being hit by the 2004 tsunami, Thailand's economic growth was already being pegged back by political uncertainty as this year's protests against Mr Thaksin rumbled on.

The problem is now likely to get worse as nervy companies delay investment and the former government's spending programmes come under scrutiny.

While tourists may keep coming, foreign investors will be watching extremely closely to see what happens to Shin Corp, the mobile phone group which Mr Thaksin's family sold to Singaporean investors in January.

The sale of such an important Thai business was seen by many Thais as unpatriotic and triggered the anti-Thaksin protests.

Any moves to regain control of the company would send shock waves through Thai business.

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