Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Tanks pull out of the center of Bangkok

AFP , BANGKOK

A boy points a toy gun while sitting on a motorbike at a main thoroughfare in Bangkok yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Thailand's new military rulers rolled their tanks out of Bangkok's royal and government center yesterday less than five days after a bloodless coup was greeted calmly in the capital.

A group of 10 tanks posted at the symbolic center of power in the Royal Plaza since last week's coup were withdrawn as the junta continued to consolidate control following the ouster of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The generals at the weekend drew up a shortlist that shrank to three candidates to replace Thaksin and prepared to step up a corruption probe against the divisive prime minister, who remained in London.

Coup leaders sent tanks and troops into Bangkok last Tuesday to take power in a move apparently welcomed by a majority of Thais for ending months of bitter political division.

The two rows of tanks had become a major draw in the Royal Plaza, attracting thousands of tourists who greeted the soldiers with flowers and posed for photos with them.

"The situation is under control but we still maintain tanks in some locations in Bangkok," said junta spokesman Colonel Acar Tiproj, while troops remained at key traffic junctions in the capital.

The regime appeared more worried about rumblings of dissent in the countryside, especially in the rural north where it has already closed 300 community radio stations.

Yesterday, in its 22nd official missive since taking power, Thailand's top military brass banned all political activity at the village, district and provincial level, threatening "harshest penalties."

"There have already been movements at the provincial level and below, both supporting and opposing the military rulers," they said in a statement.

"Such movements could cause problems and create divisions in society. The military leaders ask those groups to cease their political activities until the situation returns to normal," it said.

Junta leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin last week justified Thailand's first putsch in 15 years by accusing Thaksin of corruption and of insulting the king, an offense punishable by jail.

Today, nine graft-fighters will start investigating corruption claims against Thaksin and his government after the new regime appointed them last week to the National Counter-Corruption Commission.

Auditor general Jaruvan Maintaka said that she would tackle 10 cases of alleged government corruption during Thaksin's premiership after Thaksin's downfall was triggered by protests over his family's US$1.9 billion tax-free sale of the telecom empire he founded.

Also see stories:

Speculation rife on Thai asset flight

Thaksin's removal could help resolve insurgency

Thailand's coup a familiar routine

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