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Capital creeps back to life

An uneasy calm settled over Bangkok yesterday as one of the world's most vibrant cities crept back to life after a night-time curfew imposed by the military.

The capital's usual morning gridlock was relieved as schools were shuttered following an Army order, but many people returned to work as normal, stopping at food stalls which opened following the end of the curfew at 5am.

In contrast to the last coup in 2006, there were no tanks on the streets and only a limited deployment of soldiers at key buildings.

Senior politicians who were ordered to report to the military have felt the direct impact. But for the public, the curfew was met with humour and stoicism in a city whose recent history has been pockmarked by political unrest.

For Thanakan Chalaemprasead the most distressing aspects of the coup so far are the loss of his favourite TV shows - after the Army ordered the suspension of normal programming - and the early closure of the city's ubiquitous 7/11 stores.

"I was hungry, but I only had instant noodles at home," the 21-year-old mechanic said. "There was also nothing on TV. If the Army wants us to stay home, they should at least let us watch something."

Instead, TVs and radios blared patriotic music punctuated by statements from a military spokesman.

Overnight the commercial heart of the city, famed for its 24-hour beat, was reduced to a near ghost town, with only the occasional taxi plying the roads as the curfew descended. A smattering of bars breached the order serving beers to bemused tourists, who were holed up in their hotels.

But there were few direct signs of military intervention, after a dramatic day of Army deployments and televised orders threatening further curbs on media and personal freedoms - including a ban on political gatherings of more than five people.

As dawn broke yesterday armed troops were seen around Government House overseeing a clean up after protesters were dispersed from their sandbagged encampment.

Reporters also saw Army officers giving alms to Buddhist monks outside a nearby temple, as a bulldozer removed sand-bags and concrete blocks from the vacated protest site.

After months of disruptive political rallies, some city residents expressed optimism that the coup would cut a path through the political paralysis, which has seen at least 28 people killed and hundreds more wounded in protest-linked clashes.

"At first I thought the coup was a bad idea," Vichit Kriyasaun, 27, said. "But now I think it could be good because they may stop the fighting."

However, others were wearied by the latest chapter in a festering crisis that has torn Thailand apart since 2006, when former PM Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted. The curfew will remain in place nationwide until the Army says otherwise.


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