Thailand coup: Trucks block entrance, take faction leaders, then it's all over

Thai armed soldiers block the entrance of the Army Club, after a meeting between the army and the main political rivals in Bangkok, Thailand on Thursday, May 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA
Thai armed soldiers block the entrance of the Army Club, after a meeting between the army and the main political rivals in Bangkok, Thailand on Thursday, May 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA

Signs that the military had finally decided to intervene in Thailand’s long-running political conflict began at around 4.30pm local time on Thursday, when black Mercedes sedans, escorted by riders on motorcycles, started leaving the Army Club conference hall where talks between the feuding groups had started on Wednesday. 

Soon after these vehicles left, at least four army trucks roared past the conference hall and screeched to a halt near the front gate which faces Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.

The military parked these trucks in zig zag fashion to block any vehicles from entering.

Armed soldiers jumped out, crouching behind their trucks with guns drawn, their eyes darting to and fro as if expecting an attack at any moment.

A crowd of reporters that had been waiting at the site surged forward.

“Get back, get back!” An army representative called out. “It’s not safe!”

A stream of minivans then started leaving the hall, also under escort. Reporters who managed to get near one vehicle said they spotted anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, protest spokesman Akanat Promphan, and pro-government red shirt leader Nattawut Saikua, all packed into the same vehicle – a highly suspicious arrangement given that they were in politically opposite camps.

The journalists turned to a military spokesman standing nearby. “Is this a coup? Is this a coup?” one asked.

The poor woman had no answer, appearing to be equally in the dark.

Columns of soldiers bearing shields then arrived to push reporters back into one corner of compound as more troops emerged to secure the entrance area.

We later learnt that the leaders of the opposing factions had been “detained by the army".

Then came word that General Prayuth Chan-ocha had just taken over the country, making the military move the army’s 12th successful coup since 1932. 

Thailand’s martial law – which had been invoked with much denial that it was a coup – had lasted just over two days.

tanhy@sph.com.sg