Thai govt asks army to stay in barracks
Thailand's government asked the military to stay in their barracks yesterday as rumours spread that the army was plotting a coup to end mass protests that have shut down both of Bangkok's airports.
The army denied there was any attempt to topple Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat after months of anti-government protests, but admitted that tanks had moved through an area of the capital near parliament as part of a display for cadets.
Somchai held an urgent cabinet meeting Thursday in northern Chiang Mai city, and declared a state of emergency at Bangkok's two airports to end the unrest that has paralysed the kingdom and left thousands of tourists stranded.
Somchai confirmed Thursday that the government has imposed a state of emergency at Bangkok's two airports after they were occupied by protesters.
"It is wrong for protesters to take the entire Thai nation hostage," Somchai said in a televised address to the nation.
"The government is not intending to hurt anybody but is just facilitating official works, and the emergency will be temporary," he added.
"I would like to inform all military personnel to carry out your duty as usual. Do not make any movement or be on stand-by. This is to stop the coup rumours," government spokesman Nattawut Saikuar said on national radio.
Nattawut denied rumours that the government wanted to sack the army chief, General Anupong Paojinda, after Anupong urged Somchai on Wednesday to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections.
An army spokesman urged political reconciliation, saying it neither wanted to move against protesters at the two Bangkok airports nor risk a confrontation with government supporters if it staged a coup.
"The military have moved tanks for strategic purposes but I can confirm that there is no coup and the military has not been ordered to be on stand-by," Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told AFP.
The army has staged 18 coups in Thailand's history, the most recent in 2006 when it toppled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Somchai's brother-in-law.
Supporters of the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) earlier blockaded Bangkok's old Don Mueang airport in an attempt to prevent ministers from flying to Chiang Mai, a Thaksin stronghold.
But cabinet members slipped out of the city in small aircraft.
Demonstrators stormed the main Suvarnabhumi International Airport on Tuesday night and have set up a protest camp there, effectively cutting Bangkok off from the rest of the world.
Thai aviation authorities later gave airlines the green light to use the U-Tapao naval base instead, saying that several flights had already landed there including a Thai Airways flight from Los Angeles.
"It's already begun," said Chaisak Angkasuwan, director general of the Civil Aviation Department.
The PAD launched their campaign to topple the democratically-elected government six months ago, accusing it of being a puppet of Thaksin, who remains in exile to avoid a jail term imposed for a corruption conviction.
The group has the backing of elements in the palace, military and Bangkok's old elite that want to purge society of the influence of Thaksin, who is adored by the rural poor.
As both sides refused to back down, concerns deepened for the kingdom's economy, vital tourism industry and diplomatic ties.
"Several countries are seriously concerned with the incidents happening in our country now -- there is no rule of law," foreign minister Sompong Amornviwat told AFP by telephone from Germany.
Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, meanwhile, questioned whether Thailand was still a suitable place to hold the regional ASEAN summit in December.