As I write early on this Wednesday morning, confusion reigns in Thailand.
Although rumours of a military coup had been circulating for a few weeks, no-one I know took them seriously until about 9pm last night when a Thai colleague phoned me. He said he was watching Thai Channel Nine and a voice message by the Prime Minister was cut off soon after he declared a state of emergency and sacked the head of the Army.
I immediately switched on all Thai TV channels. All normal services had stopped, replaced with file video of King Bhumibol. Instinct told me this was to reassure the Thai people and I knew immediately something was drastically wrong.
There had been pressure growing on the prime minister to resign following a political impasse in which April’s general election was declared invalid. New elections were due for November.
After checking there was no breaking news on CNN and the BBC, I rang an Australian friend in Bangkok. He told me that the restaurant where he was having dinner, near central Bangkok, had suddenly been ordered to close. There were tanks in the streets and hundreds of armed soldiers milling. As we spoke a tank rolled past with a loud speaker warning people to go indoors to ensure their safety.
Soon after, I noticed a headline on the BBC declaring “Breaking News. Martial Law Declared in Thailand”. I knew then it would be a sleepless night.
About 11pm the websites of the two English news papers, The Bangkok Post and The Nation, were jammed. The BBC and CNN began running video tape of army tanks and soldiers around Government House, the Prime Minister’s office and the Royal Palace. Soon after, the satellite service from international news channels was cut but BBC remained on cable for about half an hour. By midnight, as far as I could tell, all news channels except Bloomberg Business had been blocked.
I started to ring friends, both Thai and expatriates, but there was much confusion. A businessman in Bangkok tole me he has been invited to attend a meeting at Military Headquarters where top civil servants, leaders of state enterprises and university presidents will be briefed on the “new policy”. Foreign diplomats have also been invited.
Both The Bangkok Post and The Nation have confirmed that a faction of the Thai military led by the military commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin says it has overthrown Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Declaring themselves the “Council of Political Reform”, the rebels said they were led by General Sonthi and declared loyalty to the king.
I love this country and providing foreigners stay out of central Bangkok I am absolutely confident about my safety. But it is very unnerving not knowing exactly what is happening and what is going to happen next.