Coup in Bangkok

Tanks in Bangkok (click photo for a larger view)

After viewing an emergency BBC broadcast, I sent the following note home:

Hi there. I've just seen the BBC news and a military coup claims to have taken over the government. Apparently there are tanks and military personnel on the streets of Bangkok.

I want you to know I am here still on the island of Phi Phi. Before the news of the coup, I bought a ticket back to Bangkok and I will be arriving there tomorrow.

According to my guide book, Thailand is famous for military coups. They maintain an elected and an appointed government with the military fluctuating in power. I suspect the same for this.

Please know I will take all reasonable safety precautions. If my plans change for any reason, I'll be sure to send an e-mail.

Now I've been in Seattle in the middle of the WTO riots and in Havana, Cuba during protests for the return of Elian Gonzalez. Upon arriving in Bangkok, I was prepared for mayhem.

The reality was quite different than the media broadcasts.

Thai citizens were unfathomed by the military presence. In fact, they were bringing water and ice cream to troops in the streets.

The Bangkok Post and other papers reported the coup more in terms of a protest by the military. No violence was anticipated...and every Thai citizen seemed aware of this.

However, the international news and the US government had a completely different reaction. In fact, days later, the US imposed sanctions on Thailand. SANCTIONS! We have imposed sanctions against North Korea and Iraq...but Thailand? I was stunned.

In Thailand, what takes precedence over any elected or appointed government official is loyalty to the King.

Note: In the photo above, soldiers have garlands of yellow flowers draped over the nose of the tanks. Citizens, who have come to take photos, also wear yellow shirts. Yellow is the symbol of loyalty to the king. As long as the King was not being threatened, there was no great concern.

In fact, according to an article written by the BBC, the present King of Thailand has held his reign through 17 military coups, 20 different prime ministers, and 15 constitutions.