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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Takes Control of Bangkok

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The Thai army took control of Bangkok on Tuesday and announced it would set up a commission to reform the Constitution despite Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declaring a state of emergency from New York, where he was attending the 61st United Nations General Assembly.

After tanks surrounded the Thai Government House in the country's first coup in 15 years, all television channels relayed a written statement saying the armed forces and police were in control of Bangkok and surrounding provinces, and appealed for calm.

Rumors of a military coup swept the Thai capital after the army-owned Channel 5 television station suspended regular programming, played patriotic songs and showed pictures of the king. At least some radio and television stations monitored in Bangkok suspended programming.

Thaksin said he was ordering the transfer of the nation's army chief to work in the prime minister's office, effectively suspending him from his military duties.

Several hundred soldiers were deployed at keys points in Bangkok, including government installations and major intersections, witnesses said.

It said the armed forces and police had set up a commission to decide on political reforms, ousting Thaksin in the midst of a protracted political crisis, in which he was accused of undermining democracy in the country.

Weerasak Kohsurat, a deputy minister in a prior government, said he believed royal adviser Sumate Tantivejakul would head the reform commission and that an interim government would be formed while political reforms were agreed upon.

Elections would be called soon and Thaksin would be allowed to take part, Kohsurat said.

Thaksin's televised message declaring a "severe state of emergency" was interrupted after 10 minutes while the billionaire telecoms tycoon turned politician, whose critics accuse him of corruption and abuse of power, was still talking.

The capital remained quiet, according to the television message and reporters.

Inside the Government House, some 50 soldiers ordered police in the complex to lay down their weapons, a witness said.

In his television statement, Thaksin ordered troops not to "move illegally" and told army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin to report to acting Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya. He also ordered Armed Forces Supreme Commander Ruangroj Mahasaranond to implement the emergency order.

Even though Thailand's last military coup was 15 years ago, speculation about military intervention has been rife, with motorists calling traffic radio stations last week after tanks were spotted rolling down the streets of the capital.

That proved to be a false alarm, with the army saying the tanks were merely transporting soldiers returning from exercises.

A general election scheduled for October was postponed last week, probably until November.

The Thai currency, the baht, fell immediately after reports of tanks approaching the center of the capital.