- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) - Thailand’s army seized power in a May 22 coup, the Southeast Asian nation’s second in eight years. Here, four Associated Press correspondents who have been covering the crisis and the political turmoil leading up to it offer their insight into recent events:

Q: THAILAND IS KNOWN AS THE “LAND OF SMILES.” WHY IS THERE SO MUCH POLITICAL TURMOIL?

Thai society is undergoing major change, and politics over the past decade has in part been a battle between the old royalist ruling class and an ascendant majority based in the north and northeast that has benefited from development and has begun to see itself as a political force.

Much of that struggle has played out around one man - former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon deposed by a 2006 coup who now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a prison sentence on a corruption conviction. The issue of whether to support or oppose Thaksin and his powerful political machine has divided friends, families and the nation.

Thaksin entered politics by founding his own political party and buying the loyalty of local political bosses nationwide. He won a landslide election in 2001, and once in office he cemented his popularity among Thailand’s rural and urban poor majority with unprecedented populist policies. Thaksin often was accused of being arrogant and bullying critics, as well as failing to keep his private business interests separate from the business of government. This alienated the educated, urban middle class and alarmed traditional ruling circles - royalists and the military - who perceived in his naked ambition a desire to usurp the prerogatives of the throne, or even destroy the nation’s revered monarchy itself.

The 2006 coup might have ended the story, but monarchists and their allies sought to punish Thaksin and froze part of his fortune. He refused to accept his fate and resurrected his political party, while both sides mobilized proxy popular forces - the pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts” and the anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirts.” The latter evolved into the protest movement that had destabilized Bangkok since November in its bid to bring down the government.

Rules went out the window as the protesters’ battle for power resulted in violence. The courts and military were willing to turn a blind eye to acts of insurrection by demonstrators, enabling the political deadlock that served as the army’s excuse for the latest coup.

- Grant Peck has covered Thailand and Southeast Asia for the AP for more than two decades. He has reported on three previous Thai coups and several other coup attempts.

OVER THE PAST DECADE, THAILAND’S POLITICAL CRISIS HAS LED TO RIOTS, PROTESTS AND EVEN THE BRIEF SHUTDOWN OF THE NATION’S MAIN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT IN BANGKOK. IS THAILAND STILL SAFE TO VISIT?

When the outside world hears the words “military coup,” it imagines tanks in the streets and a country under lockdown. That is not the scene in Thailand, where most things have remained the same. The military is trying to keep a low profile, and some people have noted that they’ve seen troops only on TV. Some tourists say they are barely aware of the coup. Many have tweeted pictures from the country’s pristine resorts to show images of unaffected, peaceful beach paradises.

Schools across the country closed after the coup was announced, but have since reopened. People have been going to work as normal, and stores and restaurants, like everything else, are open. The main impact has been on nightlife. A curfew has been in place since the army took power, but it was eased last week to midnight-4 a.m., and critical travel - like tourists traveling to or from airports - is still allowed.

That said, the nation’s political crisis remains unresolved and there is still a potential for protests, which have been small so far, to turn violent. More than 40 countries have issued travel alerts, mostly advising visitors to stay away from any protests. The United States elevated its warning to recommend that Americans postpone non-essential travel to the country, particularly to Bangkok.

- Jocelyn Gecker has covered the region for the AP since 2006. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@jgecker

SINCE TAKING OVER, THE MILITARY HAS ISSUED MORE THAN TWO DOZEN RESTRICTIONS AND EDICTS. HOW HAS THAT AFFECTED HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RIGHT OF PEOPLE TO SPEAK FREELY?

The junta has made clear it will tolerate no dissent and issued warnings that it will crack down on any acts deemed “provocative.” Under the current circumstances, that has included the brief detention of people holding signs that say things like “Elections Now” or “Peace Please.” The junta, however, insists that individual rights are being upheld, no detainees have been abused and it is only trying to restore calm.

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