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In Bangkok, low-key reaction as military stages coup

By Paula Hancocks and Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 2:02 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bangkok reacts calmly to news of coup
  • But with news broadcasts cut off, it's unclear how rural residents are reacting
  • Coup began with troops sealing off meeting between rival factions
  • General soon took to the air to announce the takeover

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Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- At first, everything seemed routine -- an uneventful end to a second day of meetings between Thailand's bitter political rivals.

Then the military trucks arrived, sealing off Bangkok's Thai Army Club, where the talks were being held. Armed soldiers in green camouflage rushed about, blocking entrances and exits as military vans, apparently carrying factional leaders, drove away.

It seemed a coup was playing out, right in front of reporters' eyes.

Soon, television programming fell silent, and Army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha took to the air to confirm the news of a military takeover after five hours of talks meant to find a solution to Thailand's festering political crisis.

Bangkok reacted calmly. Traffic was jammed downtown -- not unusual for rush hour in a city of nearly 7 million people. But it was surely a sign people wanted to make sure they got home before the military's 10 p.m. curfew.

There did not appear to be any tension or panic, but then again, Bangkok is home turf for establishment protesters seeking the removal of what they consider a corrupt, tainted government.

With TV and radio broadcasts airing only military messaging, it was impossible to know what the reaction was in Thailand's north, home to many populists angry over the recent removal of the country's democratically elected Prime Minister.

According to Paradon Patthanathabut, national security adviser to the former government, the protest encampment of the populist "Red Shirts" had been cleared with military assistance. It wasn't clear if there had been any injuries or arrests.

At the sprawling protest camp of the anti-government protesters, called "Yellow Shirts," the military was nowhere to be found, and a sense of victory permeated the air.

People sang, clapped and smiled broadly as they slowly packed up to go home, leaving the scene to resemble the closing hour of a festival.

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CNN's Paula Hancocks reported from Bangkok, and Michael Pearson wrote from Atlanta.

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