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Like Old Times in Bangkok

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
Updated September 20, 2006

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Thai general Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, who led a swift coup in Bangkok on Tuesday, said the military had seized power to end the turmoil under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's leadership (Australian). During a press conference, Sonthi said a new prime minister would be installed within two weeks to lead the country until elections are held in October 2007 (FT). Meanwhile King Bhumibol, who has been placed at the nation's helm, endorsed the coup, and the ousted Thaksin, in New York for the UN General Assembly, made plans to travel to London (AP). The Bangkok Post offers a timeline of recent developments, and a Q&A by the BBC discusses the coup's impact.

During a presentation at CFR on Monday, Thaksin acknowledged opposition groups wanted him out of power, but he said the role of the military in Thai politics was “reducing” and democracy in Thailand was “transparent.” But Thaksin has been embroiled by accusations of corruption, particularly since his family sold its majority stake in a mobile phone company in a deal widely seen as unethical. As this Backgrounder explains, he made his fortune in telecommunications before becoming prime minister in 2001. In December 2005, however, mass protests erupted after Thaksin exempted his family from taxes on the sale of their corporate stake. Street rallies lasted seven weeks before the prime minister responded by calling a snap election, which he won with deep support among the rural poor. However, the opposition refused to accept the results, and with Thailand’s elites becoming increasingly disenchanted and a low-level Muslim insurgency raging in the south, Thaksin’s ties with the army worsened. Last month, he accused military groups of conspiring to assassinate him (BBC). The Times of London charts events in Thaksin’s troubled administration.

Added to the list of Thaksin’s problems has been an insurgency his administration failed to control in the south, where most of the country’s Muslims—about 5 percent of the population—live and where the conflict has led to more than 1,700 deaths (AP). The separatists claim that Muslims have endured decades of discrimination at the hands of the Buddhist central government. A few days ago, in spite of opposition from political leaders, the Thai military held a rally to seek support among the Muslim south, calling for a peaceful end to the thirty-three-month insurgency (Reuters). A paper published last year by the Center for Contemporary Conflict traces the history of Muslim rebellion in southern Thailand, predicting that if Thaksin’s government could not end the most recent insurgency, violence would “provoke an authoritarian backlash in the political system.”

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