- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) - The last time Thailand’s army seized power, in 2006, some called it “the smiling coup.”

Residents of Bangkok who supported the overthrow of an elected government they accused of corruption poured into the streets, handing out flowers to soldiers who had deployed tanks across this metropolis of glass skyscrapers and ornate Buddhist temples.

It was bloodless, and for a time, it was calm.

Last Thursday, Thailand’s army seized power again without firing a shot, overthrowing a popularly elected administration that won a landslide vote three years earlier. The army says it had to act to restore order after seven months of increasingly violent political turbulence. But the aftermath feels much different this time.

Most of the country’s ousted government has been detained or is in hiding. Journalists, scholars and politicians are being ordered to surrender at army bases. Activists have fled. The junta chief has issued ominous warnings not to criticize the takeover. A nighttime curfew has been imposed. And protests, though small, have come almost immediately.

Hanging over it all is the threat of serious resistance. The political movements spawned in the aftermath of the 2006 coup - particularly the “Red Shirts” who support the ousted government - had vowed to take action if there was another.

So far, there has been no bloodshed. But as ousted Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang put it Tuesday, shortly before being taken into custody by soldiers at a news conference in Bangkok, “If anyone thinks that the coup will stop all the conflict and the turmoil or violence, they would be wrong.”

The May 22 putsch led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha “will create more conflict,” said Chaturon, the only member of the deposed government who has spoken freely in public since the military took over. “From now on, there will be more and more resistance,” he said, adding that if violence erupts, “it will be a disaster for this country.”

The junta is trying to silence the critics it has detained by releasing them only if they sign a form agreeing not to do anything “provocative.” Violators face two years in jail.

Thai news outlets have been shut down or are practicing self-censorship. The military has said it will crack down on online speech it considers inflammatory. It denied responsibility for a brief and partial shutdown of Facebook in Thailand on Wednesday, but it has begun targeting websites deemed threatening. Among those now blocked: the Thailand page of Human Rights Watch.

This coup is in essence a continuation of the last one. Both were sparked by political conflict surrounding former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, a billionaire who made a fortune in the telecommunications industry, shook up the country’s traditional power structure by winning over the majority lower classes with populist policies that brought virtually free health care and electricity to some villages for the first time. His opponents, including powerful businessmen, staunch royalists and much of the upper and middle classes, accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the nation’s revered king.

He was deposed in 2006, and two years later was convicted on corruption charges he says were politically motivated. He lives abroad to avoid serving prison time but had remained deeply influential in the recently ousted government, which was led by his sister until a court removed her from office earlier this month.

In the backdrop of nearly a decade of political upheaval, there is also increasing anxiety about the health of 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, and the eventual succession. Thailand-based media rarely report on the issue because of the country’s severe lese majeste laws, which impose harsh jail terms against those deemed to have defamed the monarchy.

The latest coup was the culmination of a half-year of protests triggered by a disastrous attempt by the ruling party to pass an amnesty bill that would have erased Thaksin’s two-year prison sentence and allowed him to return home.

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