U students react to coup in Thailand

The coup ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been accused of corruption, while he was in New York.

by Cati Vanden Breul

Schools and banks were closed in Thailand on Wednesday after the military staged an overnight coup Tuesday.

In the first government overthrow in the country since 1991, army tanks rolled into Bangkok, surrounded government offices and seized control of the capital without meeting resistance or firing a shot.

Thailand’s elected Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was in New York at the United Nations when the coup occurred. Military leader Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin said he will act as interim prime minister for two weeks – with King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s support – until a new leader is chosen.

Many Thai citizens, including some University students, were glad to see Thaksin ousted. The Thai leader, who’s been in power since 2001, has been accused of corruption. Street demonstrations earlier this year demanded his resignation.

Thai University student Aurana Srithavatchai said the prime minister ruled selfishly. She said new leadership would be a positive change for the country.

“The prime minister hasn’t been very nice to us at all,” Srithavatchai said. “He’s making a lot of profit for his family.”

The architecture senior said she has been in contact with her parents and siblings in Thailand and isn’t worried about their safety.

“My brother called and told me about it and said things were peaceful,” she said. “He also told me about some rules, like how people have to stay in their house after 7 p.m.”

Anjalee Vacharaksa, an oral biology graduate student from Thailand, said she didn’t know how to feel about the coup yet.

“I don’t know which side I support because there are so many conflicts between the two sides,” Vacharaksa said.

The most important thing is keeping peace in Thailand, she said.

“I don’t want to see any violence happen in my country,” Vacharaksa said. “I’m glad nothing has really happened so far.”

She said she talked to her family, who lives in a suburb of Bangkok, immediately after the military took over to make sure they were safe.

“I told them to stay home and try to keep updated,” Vacharaksa said.

The United States and the European Union have condemned the coup as a blow to democracy.

One of the negative aspects of the military takeover is the image it sends the rest of the world, said health informatics graduate student Nawanan Theera-Ampornpunt, who is Thai.

“But a positive thing is a lot of people are not happy with the current prime minister. It’s a relief to many people that he’s finally down,” Theera-Ampornpunt said.

Gen. Sondhi said Thailand will hold general elections for a new prime minister in October 2007.

The United States warned Americans living in Thailand to “monitor the situation closely,” but did not advise them to leave the country.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.