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Ousted Thai leader's luxury limbo in New York

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20060919/wl_asia_afp/thailandcoupun_060919223836 Ousted Thai leader s luxury limbo in New York by P. Parameswaran 21 minutes ago
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 19, 2006
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20060919/wl_asia_afp/thailandcoupun_060919223836

      Ousted Thai leader's luxury limbo in New York

      by P. Parameswaran 21 minutes ago

      NEW YORK (AFP) - Holed up in a plush New York hotel as
      tanks rumbled into Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister
      Thaksin Shinawatra was a spectator at his own downfall
      as a coup by mutinous generals played out on live TV.

      Shinawatra took refuge in the luxurious confines of
      the 1,400 room Grand Hyatt hotel, which towers over
      fabled 42nd Street in the bustling heart of Manhattan,
      11 time zones from home as his fate was apparently
      sealed.

      By Tuesday night in New York, and just before dawn
      Thailand time Wednesday, and after hours of crisis
      talks, even his immediate future was in flux.

      After bringing forward a speech to the UN General
      Assembly, from Wednesday to late Tuesday -- Thaksin
      was then forced to cancel it completely.

      He had been due to spend the day rubbing shoulders
      with the world's most powerful statesmen and women.

      But instead he was condemned to a lonely and unwelcome
      exile in the Grand Hyatt, as Thai army chief General
      Sonthi Boonyaratglin took over his powers, revoked the
      constitution and imposed martial law.

      As US news networks bracketed Bush's speech with
      pictures of Humvees and armed soldiers in the Thai
      capital, Thaksin can hardly have avoided watching the
      political earthquake back home.

      Diplomats meanwhile were left to speculate on
      Thaksin's fate. Asked whether Thaksin could go home,
      one Southeast Asian official said privately, "yes, but
      I don't know whether he can land in Bangkok."

      An aide to Thaksin said he planned to leave the United
      States on Tuesday night, but did not say where he was
      going.

      It was "not sure" whether Thaksin would go back to
      Bangkok even though he still has an official plane at
      his disposal, said the official.

      Earlier, as the coup raced to a climax, Thaksin's
      aides in New York admitted they had lost touch with
      events back home.

      In an ironic twist, the man who made billions from
      telecoms couldn't even call home to fight back, after
      rebellious troops seized government communications
      lines, a Thai official said.

      "It is very difficult to communicate with people, to
      get to know the exact situation there," a harried
      official said.

      Thaksin's aides wouldn't say whether he had been in
      touch with Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej -- the
      country's beacon of stability as fragile democracy
      emerged from decades of political turmoil and coups.

      Earlier, Thaksin aides had insisted he would not
      relinquish power.

      "The Thai prime minister is quite calm," a senior Thai
      official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

      "He watched President George W. Bush speaking at the
      UN General Assembly from his hotel room," the official
      said.

      "He feels that he is the elected prime minister and he
      would like to safeguard the constitution of the
      country," said the official.

      In the early hours of the coup, as troops closed in on
      his office in Bangkok, Thaksin had taken to the
      airwaves, broadcasting on Thai TV networks from his
      hotel suite, sacking the army chief, and declaring a
      state of emergency, as the teeming Thai capital
      slumbered.

      But as the networks were seized by the army, Thaksin
      found his only access to the Thai people cut off.

      In the stately Grand Hyatt lobby, journalists and a
      few ex-pat Thais gathered to learn Thaksin's fate.

      But the bustle of New York life went on undisturbed,
      as oblivious businessmen checked out, and tourists
      licked ice creams, none the wiser to the high drama
      unfolding upstairs.

      Outside Thailand's UN mission, meanwhile, anti-Thaksin
      demonstrators gathered, chanting "Thaksin go to hell"
      and booed when an upper window of the mission briefly
      opened.

      "We normally don't like coups," said 48-year-old
      Chanyute Oottamakorn, a New York City employee
      originally from Nakorn Sri Thamarant.

      "But this time we welcome it. We needed it because
      he's so stubborn," he said.

      "We are happy," said another protester, a woman in her
      50s who declined to give her name, describing
      Thaksin's regime as a corrupt group of liars.

      Confusion reigned at Thailand's embassy in Washington.

      "We are watching it on CNN," a official said on
      condition of anonymity.
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