BANGKOK (The Nation): The situation in the capital was extremely tense yesterday as coup rumours prompted reaction from anti-government protesters and their rivals. Both camps mobilised their supporters for street fighting, while government and business offices suggested their staff get out early.
Newspaper offices were flooded with phone calls inquiring or giving “tips” about an imminent coup. A source claimed Army chief Anupong Paochinda had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to exchange ultimatums.
A blink could result in the prime minister’s stepping down or the removal of the Army commander.
Anupong, who was publicly silent, reportedly canceled a meeting of the military-run TV Channel 5 board of directors and met Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda.
The coup rumours seemed to have some credibility, as armoured vehicles and tanks were seen in many locations, including the Chang Building and the NBT and Modernine television stations.
However, television stations ran texts stating that the Army had announced it would mobilise its personnel and vehicles in Bangkok as part of a study course for military students.
Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the military would not undertake a coup since it would not end the political conflict. Some anti-coup groups might come out to resist and that could result in bloodshed, he said.
The spokesman said the Army chief, as deputy director of the Interior Security Operations Command (Isoc), had told provincial Isoc agencies to keep a close eye on any violence.
Amid the rumours of the coup and an exchange of ultimatums, the Cabinet, meeting in Chiang Mai, rushed to clarify its position that it would not consider purging the military top brass.
Government Spokesman Natthawut Saikua, speaking at an unexpected press conference, pleaded with soldiers to remain in their barracks. The announcement inevitably added weight to the coup rumours.
Natthawut said he had come out of the Cabinet meeting to make the announcement because there was “high speculation” about a coup.
The anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy, meanwhile, was cautious, suggesting the coup rumours could be a decoy designed to distract the protesters at Suvarnabhumi Airport before an operation to disperse the crowd.
People Power Party MP Suthin Klangsang told a press conference that citizens would be asked to obstruct any coup attempt, such as using their vehicles to block tanks taking part in a putsch.
There were also grave concerns that a coup attempt could spark nationwide violence involving pro- and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra mobs, as well as the military.
Some company and government office workers were told to leave home early, adding to the widespread anxiety.
Workers at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather were instructed to clear the office by 4pm. DTAC’s head office issued a statement saying it was closing until the situation returned to normal.
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