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The insider's guide to ... the Thai coup

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(CNN) -- Everything you ought to know about the military takeover in Bangkok.

So what happened?

The Thai military seized control of government buildings and television stations in Bangkok in a bloodless coup on Tuesday while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was away in New York attending the U.N. General Assembly. Army Chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin has been placed in charge of the country as head of an interim military-run Political Reform Council, revoking the country's constitution and declaring martial law as tanks and troops continue to police the streets.

A bit sneaky, wasn't it?

Perhaps, but so far there has been no sign of any opposition to the coup, with military leaders having been received by Thailand's popular monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thaksin, prime minister since 2001 and one of Thailand's richest businessmen, had become an increasingly controversial figure in recent months amid allegations of corruption and cronyism, despite being re-elected by a landslide in 2005 and enjoying widespread popularity in the countryside because of his populist spending policies, including the introduction of virtually free healthcare for the rural poor.

What is Thaksin accused of?

Thaksin has been using Thailand as a front for his family telecommunications business, Shin, according to his critics. In January he made around $1.9 billion by selling his family's controlling stake to Singapore's state investment company, paying no tax on the sale. Opponents claimed the deal involved insider trading and the sale of national assets to a foreign government. In April, Thaksin staged and won a snap election in an attempt to defuse the crisis, only for the result to be ruled unconstitutional by the national court. A fresh ballot on his leadership had been scheduled for November which Thaksim's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party had been expected to win.

Tanks on the street, generals on television ... it's all a bit old-fashioned, isn't it?

"Military coups are a thing of the past," Sonthi said recently, with a wink. "Political troubles should be resolved by politicians." But although Thailand (formerly Siam) has been a stable democracy since 1991, it has a long history of this sort of thing, with 18 coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

So what happens next?

The army has promised to return power to the people swiftly and says a new prime minister will be appointed within two weeks. "I would like to assure that the Council has no intention of running the country by itself and will return power, under the constitutional monarchy, to the people as soon as possible," Sonthi said.

What about Thaksin?

Somewhat belatedly, Thaksin announced he had fired Sonthi and ordered him to report to the office of his deputy PM. He also declared a state of emergency and insisted, against the evidence of local reports, that his government remained in charge of the armed forces. But Thaksin was last seen heading for London, where he has an apartment, to meet his family and plot his next move.

So should I cancel my holiday to Phuket?

So far the coup has been unmarked by violence but most countries including the U.S., the EU states and Australia are warning citizens planning to visit Thailand to reconsider until the situation settles down. Those in the country are being urged to stay in their homes or avoid large gatherings. New Zealand told its citizens not to go sightseeing around government buildings. But flights in and out of the country are undisturbed, and organizers of next week's Thailand Open tennis tournament also said the event would go ahead -- so pack your racket.


story.coup.leaders.jpg

The coup leaders appeared on Thai national TV on Wednesday.

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